Just as Emailvision Inc, Europe's top-billed email software player, walks on a profit champagne this year, fishing the recession troubled waters of corporate marketing budgets, the first slice of its holiday cake goes to oarsboys on a timber-crafted riceboat (kettuvallam) on Kerala backwaters.
A 34-member incentive tourists team from Paris last week has become a ray of hope for India, when country's tourist arrivals dropped to 5.22 lakh (December 2008) from 5.96 lakh (December 2007).
Not that it was easy for Kerala firm Tour India to joyride the Paris-based Emailvision's 15% surge in business this year. Emailvision has its Winners Club of 30 people, cherrypicked for their performance in 2008. These are drawn up from all its offices across the globe. A high-end holidayer, the company spends over $3000 per person on its annual incentive holiday.
Fried black pearlspot fish, graceful timber rice boats cruising on calm lagoons, coconut-palm fringed beaches and pick-me-up Ayurvedic rubdowns are some of the lures Babu Varghese, top honcho, Tour India, uses on his customised holiday packages in Kerala. The package also peppers the trips with special surprises like lighted lamp-decked boats passing by the holiday boats in the night or perhaps a group of fishermen calling upon the tourists to lend a hand in hauling up their catch.
According to Guy Porre, GM, Emailvision, the Indian experience would spawn into a great deal of mouth-to-mouth publicity among corporates looking for incentive tourism locales.
"We did think twice after hearing of some kind of communalism-tinged terrorist attacks in Mumbai," admits Nathaniel, part of the team, "But once we were here at the beach resort in Chovara, Kovalam, it was almost a spiritual experience to know that the two guys teaming up in unison to anoint an Ayurvedic oil on me in a small beach-side enclosure were of two religions- Hindu and Muslim. This harmony was contrary to what we had heard of India recently," he said.
It was the French tour firm Fleuves Du Monde that offered Kerala backwaters as the most idyllic playing ground for Emailvision's best workhorses to unwind. And Tour India didnot find Fleuves Du Monde, the latter found Tour India's Kerala packages. Christophe Sentuc, dubbed Fleuves Du Monde's travel sleuth, makes it a point to travel incognito in select tour packages in select destinations to identify locations that his clients would like.
"It's the traditionally-crafted timber boats without engines, AC and TVs that make the holiday unique for the highspending tourist. European jetsetters donot look for modern luxuries in their holidays. What they want is only shared life-experience, laced with local ethnicity," said Sentuc.
For once, its the slowness on the water glide that pays, not the speed. Unlike domestic tourists, international incentive tourists respect and relish the ban on footwear and foreign liquor on the kettuvallam cruise. "And what they equally love is the value-addition from a backwater cruise surprise- like, probably, when a coastal coconut toddyshop vendor offers them a sip of the local brew or a gift packet of local traditional robes," adds Babu Varghese, known as the father of tourism kettuvallams. After Varghese crafted the first timber boat for backwater cruises 20 years ago, there are now 960 vessals on Kerala waters, employing over 8500 people in tourism business.