Is Kochi really a must-see city?

Kochi Recently it was among the 10 most important cities for tourists in 2020, in a ranking published by an international travel magazine. It ranks seventh on a list that includes the musical paradise of Austria, Salzburg, Washington DC, which was appreciated for its iconic museums, Cairo and another city of music lovers, Bonn, in Germany, which is preparing to celebrate Beethoven's 250th birthday.

It’s an eclectic list, so what does Kochi have going for it? The Lonely planet citation is glowing in its tribute, for everything from Kochi airport being solar powered to Fort Kochi’s colonial attractions and the over three-month-long, biannual contemporary art festival, Kochi -Muziris Biennale. Culture and tourism mavens from the city, who have also lived and worked internationally, unanimously welcome the distinction and say it is well-deserved for Kochi 's quaint, raw charm, but also point out that there are areas crying for improvement, from infrastructure to waste management.

The pure charm of a unique area

Nicola Neale, photographer-writer and hotelier.

Kochi is a unique city. I like how the tourism department promotes the State and the city by celebrating their natural beauty, rather than only looking into the needs of the tourist; I know this as someone who has been in the tourism industry all my life and own a boutique hotel in Java, Indonesia. For me, Bali is the essence of what tourism shouldn’t be. Here in Kerala, it is often, ‘this is what it is, and if you are interested in this, that’s great… come’. It does not change to cater to tourists.

As an Australian of Indian origin, one half of which is Fort Kochi based, I have been settled here for three years and appreciate the harmony of this multi-ethnic, multi-religious area. There are not many places in the world like this. The grittiness and rawness of Kochi is really special and what a lot of tourists are looking for.

The most important thing for Fort Kochi is that it doesn’t become too gentrified. The charm is that it is a living community and that should always be maintained. There are enough comforts for tourists, but also with a unique charm.

A thriving city of people.

Bose Krishnamachari, president, Kochi Muziris Foundation

In terms of tourism infrastructure, Kochi can improve to become ‘world-class’. But infrastructure is not the most important element. As the ranking emphasizes, Kochi offers beautiful nature, history and contemporary culture. Kochi is not in the past tense or in passivity. It is alive and active. The Biennale as a gathering of contemporary art is an example of this. What I think is significant is that its creators, participants and primary audience are the people here. It is this energy that has been acknowledged by various artists, critics, and publications.

The government needs to do more

Tinky Mathew, entrepreneur

Kochi has so much, for both the domestic and the international wanderer. It’s got the beautiful backwaters, a rich history that you can experience in Fort Kochi’s streets, many great places to stay - from modern luxury hotels and resorts to quaint little home stays that offer Kerala’s warm, genuine and traditional hospitality. And now we have the art city tag thanks to the Kochi -Muziris Biennale (KMB) which has truly brought Kochi into the international limelight, like never before.

While from a cultural perspective, particularly as the owner of a space that hosts cultural events among other things in Fort Kochi, it's great that the government has offered its support for an event like the Biennale that has proved to be a blessing, as a Kochi ite who would like to see this city rise to the top, I feel the government must do a lot more, starting with the basics - cleaner streets and better roads.

The old part of Kochi -Mattancherry and Fort Kochi still has an enormous untapped potential. The tourist who visits this part today are still faced with waste accumulation on the streets and beaches. Making our streets cleaner, greener and pedestrian friendly would greatly improve and strengthen Kochi’s position as a must-visit destination.

The water metro project should make it easier and a lot more fun for people to get to Fort Kochi. Cleaner and more organized boat jetties without long ticket lines would also help.

Also identifying car parking areas in and around Fort Kochi and proper traffic management for tourist buses would also greatly help. There are many areas in Fort Kochi and Mattancherry that are currently inaccessible due to poor parking facilities.

Sustainability should be one of the main concerns of cities with a vision for the future, and I think it is time for us to wake up with this fact. We also need joint efforts of the various government agencies that need to work together to consider this issue as soon as possible. We need a strong campaign to educate people and find permanent solutions urgently.

We need organized development

D Dhanuraj, policy researcher

We are happy to have this recognition, which will help attract more tourists to Kochi. But as someone researching the urban liveable city concept, I feel the infrastructure has to be revamped. The work done in Fort Kochi has been haphazard. The public transport to destinations must be improved, because the visitors we get to the city, according to a study that we did revealed that we get average-income tourists who save up to come here. The government also must take a liberal approach to homestays, rather than treating them as small hotels.

Another important thing is to keep our heritage monuments. I don't think it's wrong to give it to some private party to do it, as the central government has done.

We need the participation of people in sustainability and waste management

Usha S, environmentalist

Kochi is deserving of the recognition for its natural beauty and its history as a trade center; you do feel special when you go there. But are we maintaining this beauty and heritage? The city has developed in such a way that it has not been able to handle the monsoon for two consecutive years. And Kochi Corporation is perhaps the worst at handling waste management; in Thiruvananthapuram and Alappuzha, people have been roped into waste management initiatives to some extent, which Kochi has not been able to do in the least.

Sustainable tourism is important, in terms of the environment. And this also means showing how people live in a city, because travelers visit a place to learn something, not just to eat. And if we don't move forward sustainably, by including the local people, it will be like killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.