Biennale opens up possibilities of cultural tourism

Old Harbour hotel in Fort Kochi.

Kochi: Apart from being a platform for both practitoners and lovers of contemporary art to come together, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014 makes robust business sense for Kerala and the local economy, especially its tourism and hospitality sector.

An upswing in tourist arrival, greater occupancy of hotels, arrival of the ‘AIT’ (Alert Independent Traveller) looking beyond scenic grandeur and Ayurveda, and swelling of government revenues — these could well be the outcomes of the nearly four-month-long second edition of biennale, which began on December 12.

“The biennale has come here because of the nature of the area and the ancient cosmopolitanism that it has boasted,” says K J Sohan, former Mayor and a Fort Kochi resident. “But the city also has marginalised, blighted sections, and an event such as the biennale has become an agent of positive change here. It has developed the social and cultural life of Kerala’s commercial capital.”

The KMB 2014 has enveloped all of Fort Kochi and everything has a biennale flavour here. Since the exhibition started, it has already received over 80,000 visitors and this footfall leaves a definite impact on the area. Fort Kochi, with its famed ancient trading history and remnants of colonial architecture and influences, is a tourist hotspot. The KMB has helped its cultural quotient rising phenomenally.

It is also boom time for local homestays, taxi services and restaurants. “It started as a slow tourist season for several reasons, but since the biennale started, things have picked up,” says Jude E M, of Cristy Tours and Travels, which has a taxi business. “Fort Kochi is now becoming known better, thanks to the biennale. We also have more domestic tourists here this time.”

Harish Krishnan, who has run a homestay in an old Portuguese house, said, “From a week before the biennale started, we have been getting bookings,” says Harish, who has been in the business for 15 years. “We have some repeat foreign guests—particularly German journalists—who were here at the last biennale too.”

Al Hala, a small eatery situated between Aspinwall and Cabral Yard, which is the site of Malayali artist Valsan Koorma Kolleri’s ‘How Goes the Enemy’ installation, opened in November, but had to take on an additional two staff when the biennale started a month later. “We have a good run from breakfast to dinner. We step up shop at the right time,” says Riaz Gafoor of Al Hala.