//In image makeover, Kerala set to host Dubai-type shopping festivals

In image makeover, Kerala set to host Dubai-type shopping festivals

Union-dogged state pinning revenue hopes on trade and commerce
M SARITA VARMA, Financial Express,January 22, 2007

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:  Fed up with its image of a state with labour millitancy, Left-ruled Kerala is turning to the international shopper for a desperate makeover. A five-year plan for a Kerala Shopping Festival, on the lines of the Dubai Shopping Festival, is on the anvil, joy-riding the state's global tourism brand.

To begin with, a two-month-long shopping festival is on blueprint, according to state industry minsiter Elamaram Karim. "This will tally with the tourist season from November 2007 to January 2008," he told FE. Time for consultant whizkids to be on alert. Kerala is on the lookout for business experts to gauge commercial opportunities in the private and government sectors and local self-government bodies. "Enterprise, not just industry, will be incentivised, hereafter," said Karim.

By default, it was the state's trade union girth that has shoved policymakers to discover commerce as the fast growth engine against the union-dogged industry. There are as many as 11,707 registered trade unions in Kerala. While the state enjoys just 3.7% presence in the country's industrial map, its trade union concentration, compared with the rest of India, is a high 30.7%.

For the first time, Kerala's draft industry policy showcases `trade and commerce' on par with industry. The shift is from `enterpreneurship supply side' to creating an `entreprenurship demand side', says the Left Democratic Front government's draft policy. The unsaid aspect of the new strategy is that trade is less dependent on labour unions, a senior official admitted.

According to National Sample Survey Organisation's per capita household expenditure data, the Keralite is India's most spending consumer. Even the Left's usual reservations about retail giants, like Wal-mart, seem to have gone with the wind in the renewed thrust. Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, once a vehement critic of trade replacing agriculture, made no fuss about inaugurating a non-resident Indian shopping mall in central Kerala recently. The mall was built on land which was once a paddy field. To those who waved black flags, he countered, "A job-giving unit is better than farmland lying fallow for a decade."

The global shopping destination tag is being counted upon to fetch foreign exchange that teh state's industrial investment agencies have been unable to garner. Almost in a symbolic gesture, Kerala's former investment promotion arm, K-Bip, is to don the the new commerce division.

But, there's a small dampner that is causing worry for the state's ambitious shopping festival foray. The recent Malabar Shopping Festival was looked upon as a pilot project. It proved to be a huge crowd-puller, but a poor revenue-spinner, with per day business crawling as low as Rs 6-10 lakh. But then, "its lessons that we seek first, not money, quips, Rajagopal, CEO, K-Bip.