Its culture and traditions, coupled with its varied demographics, have made Kerala one of the most popular tourist destinations in India.National Geographic's Traveller magazine names Kerala as one of the "ten paradises of the world” and "50 must see destinations of a lifetime". Travel and Leisure names Kerala as "One of the 100 great trips for the 21st century". In 2012, it overtookTaj Mahal to be the number one travel destination in Google's search trends for India. Kerala's beaches, backwaters, mountain ranges and wildlife sanctuaries are the major attractions for both domestic and international tourists. The city of Kochi ranks first in the total number of international and domestic tourists in Kerala.
Until the early 1980s, Kerala was a relatively unknown destination to other states of the country. In 1986 the government of Kerala declared tourism as an industry and it was the first state in India to do so. Marketing campaigns launched by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation, the government agency that oversees tourism prospects of the state, resulted in the growth of the tourism industry. Many advertisements branded Kerala with a catchy tagline Kerala, God's Own Country. Today, Kerala tourism is a global brand and regarded as one of the destinations with highest recall. In 2006, Kerala attracted 8.5 million tourist arrivals, an increase of 23.68% over the previous year, making the state one of the fastest-growing destinations in the world. In 2011, tourist inflow to Kerala crossed the 10-million mark.
Ayurvedic tourism became very popular since the 1990s, and private agencies have played a notable role in tandem with the initiatives of Tourism Department. Kerala is known for its ecotourism initiatives and in this segment it promotes mountaineering, trekking and bird-watching programs in the Western Ghats as the major products.As of 2005, the state's tourism industry was a major contributor to the state's economy, which is currently growing at a rate of 13.31%.The revenue from tourism increased five-fold between 2001 and 2011 and crossed the 190 billion mark in 2011. Moreover, the industry provides employment opportunity to approximately 1.2 million people.
The stone sculpture of Kuruvan and Kuruvati at Ramakkalmedu in Kerala
The most popular tourist attractions in the state are beaches, backwaters and hill stations. Major beaches are at Kovalam, Varkala, Fort Kochi, Cherai, Kappad, Muzhappilangad and Bekal. Popular hill stations are at Munnar, Wayanad, Wagamon, Peermade, Nelliampathi andPonmudi. Kerala's ecotourism destinations include 12 wildlife sanctuaries and two national parks: Periyar Tiger Reserve,Parambikulam Wildlife Sanctuary, Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, Thattekad Bird Sanctuary, Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary, and Eravikulam National Park are the most popular among them. The "backwaters" are an extensive network of interlocking rivers (41 west-flowing rivers), lakes, and canals that center around Alleppey, Kumarakom and Punnamada (where the annual Nehru Trophy Boat Race is held in August). Padmanabhapuram Palace and the Mattancherry Palace are two notable heritage sites. According to a survey conducted among foreign tourists, Elephants, fireworks display and huge crowd are the major attractions of Thrissur Pooram.Nemmara Vela is also famous for the fireworks.