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Ayurveda with Ash' Massage is on
- Kerala tries to rope in Bachchan and beauty as tourism ambassadors

Thiruvananthapuram, May 7: What keeps Aishwarya Rai so radiant amid the crushing stress of her celebrity life' The secret lies deep in the backwaters of an ancient science practised in an exotic land.

To find out, book an air ticket to Kerala.

The alluring invite, from the lady herself as she looks ethereal in the red glow around mist-covered peaks, could soon reach you in your drawing room. That is, if the men in charge of filling the southern state’s spas and beaches can persuade her.

When God’s Own Country looks around for a brand ambassador to entice tourists, it wants the world’s most beautiful woman for the job. And, of course, the country’s biggest star along with her.

Kerala Tourism officials are cautious after the bitter lesson of a few years ago, when efforts to get Hollywood star Jackie Chan to hard sell the state came a cropper. But this time, they say, the deals with Ash and Amitabh Bachchan look likely to come through.

“Imagine a catchline by Ash, silhouetted against the alpenglow on the Western Ghats, revealing the secrets of ayurveda and how she copes with gruelling schedules. That’s the kind of promo we have in mind,” says Kerala Tourism director B. Suman.

It won’t come cheap, with Bachchan likely to cost the state over Rs 1 crore and Ash about Rs 80 lakh.

“The talks have been on for nearly six months now and both have agreed to slash the original fees, quite well appreciative of our funds constraints. I met Mr Bachchan at a tourist resort in Idukki last week. But we didn’t talk much business since it was a courtesy call,” Suman said.

Bachchan has been at Tea County in the high-range Munnar, shooting for Ram Gopal Varma’s Nishabd.

Kerala Tourism rakes in an average Rs 6,000 crore in revenues from foreign and domestic travellers but its skimpy ad budget of Rs 11 crore has been a dampener.

“If this plan clicks -- and it should -- we’ll be able to get Ms Rai, now on the global film radar with Hollywood movie Mistress of Spices, to star in an ayurveda tourism commercial,” he said.

The idea is to sell Kerala’s “unique”, fortnight-long massage and detox package to domestic tourists, mainly to upcountry travellers during the monsoon. Quite a few foreigners have also been checking in at backwater resorts during the rains.

One problem has been the air fares, which have tended to persuade the domestic tourist ' typically a honeymooning couple ' to make a trip to Malaysia or Singapore instead. The bad days are probably over with private carriers offering competitive fares with better connectivity and increased frequency.

Any fresh business in the off-peak season would shore up the industry that has to make do with rock-bottom tariffs during the southwest and northeast monsoons, which last nearly six months.

Getting Ash and Bachchan would also be a huge boost after losing World Travel & Tourism Council’s best global destination crown, thanks to an NGO propaganda blitz on Kerala tourism’s sleazy underbelly.

The new promos may not reach the poetic heights of journalist Alexander Frater, who wrote in Chasing the Monsoon in 1987 about “tracing the progress of the summer monsoon, beginning in the southernmost tip of the subcontinent, Kanyakumari, up the west coast through Thiruvananthapuram, Kozhikode, Goa and Mumbai, then jetting over to Delhi, and then to experience the eastern arm of the monsoon in Calcutta and in two places near Bangladesh, Shillong and Cherrapunji”.

Ash will be leaving Goa and Cherrapunji well out of it.

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