Love this opener from ‘The miracle at speedy motors’, one of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith.
“The correct address of Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s foremost solver of problems – in the sense that this is where she could be found between 8 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon, except when she was not there – was the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, C/o Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, Gaborone, Botswana’
That little phrase ‘except when she was not there’ is bursting with the smile-inducing innocence that I find alluring about all of McCall Smith’s characters and through them about Botswana and indeed the whole of Africa (especially given that I have never been to Africa – been to Mauritius, although in my mind that does not really count).
While the romance of Places can arise from the strangest corners, novels have been – for me – a consistent source of imagination of the Far Away.
I have often wondered why tourism marketing has never really tapped well into this phenomenon. In fact, on the same note I have always felt that Arundhati Roy’s ‘God of Small Things’ and its Booker prize was really what put Kerala firmly on the world tourism map, although a few enterprising government babus mangaged to hijack all of the credit on the back of bombast.
Just saw a post on Quartz titled ‘Foreign tourists are seeing a different India than locals‘. Arguably having been the keenest watcher of Indian tourism & particularly Indian domestic tourism over the last 10 years, I can say this with confidence – the article gets its basic premise right but does not go anywhere near enough in exploring the fundamental differences between the two. So let me give it a whirl & explore one big difference in this post.
Indians take vacations to get way from crowded & dirty cities as often as possible. This quest more often that not compels us to take short weekend breaks to nearby destinations. Data of traveller behaviour on HolidayIQ.com (every month almost 5 million Indian travellers plan breaks using travellers reviews shared on HolidayIQ.com) suggests that weekend getaways number more than 10x of long vacations in India. Such weekend getaways, are therefore by definition, not to the great big tourist attractions of the nation but to the small peaceful enclaves near cities with some greenery left. This includes places like Araku Valley in Andhra Pradesh where hordes of people from Hyderabad, Vizag and Bhubaneshwar run to on weekends, Tarkarli in the south konkan coast of Maharashra, a favourite of people from Mumbai & Pune, Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh which offers respite to travellers from Nagpur, Bhopal & Indore and Mandarmani, the beach to which people from Kolkata flee regularly. Contrast this with the behavior of foreign (inbound) tourists. There are two dominant categories of foreign tourists to India – (1) the backpackers and (2) the geriatrics. The backpackers are youngsters mostly from Israel & the west who come looking for instant spirituality, undiscovered beaches and great weed, although not necessarily in that order. Most of them end up in Goa, Gokarna, Manali, & Rishikesh. The geriatircs are retired folk, mostly from Europe who come to India as a once-in-a lifetime experience to either do the golden triangle (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur) or over the last decade, Kerala.
So the biggest difference lies in the fact that the core motivation of domestic & inbound tourists are quite different which leads them to drastically different destinations in India. But there is one place in India that both domestic & inbound tourists go to in large numbers – click here to find out :)
Tourism advertising is usually pretty ho-hum. Videos with beautiful pictures of scenic spots, the odd ‘local’ with a wide grin (if you can believe that the pearly set of 32 teeth are not that of a professional model!) and ‘inspiring’ music is pretty much where most reach.
The Tweeting badger breaks this mould in two important ways; but before I get into that, let me tell what the tweeting badger is all about. The smart folks at Johannesburgh zoo have hooked up a light activated gizmo that triggers a pre-written tweet every time the badger moves about in its cave. Which results in a steady stream of sassy (and sometimes surprisingly informative) tweets that I for one absolutely want to Follow.
Now how does this break the mould in tourism advertising? For one, this moves away from video as the standard format of tourism advertising to the emerging area of ‘ambient advertising’. Secondly, it recognises that ‘attractions’ of a destination can go well beyond natural beauty and the odd local and, if led by a sure & adventurous hand, can go into really varied territory.
Now, how about a stream of tweets from ol’ Shah Jahan triggered by the movement of birds above the Taj Mahal?
Here is a list of top pilgrimage spots of India, gleaned from a worldwide list produced by Alliance of Religions & Conservation, an organisation in the UK launched by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. The absolute numbers given here can of course be endlessly debated, given India has very poor statistics for such things (eg. Wikipedia says Sabarimala gets 100mn pilgrims every year against the number here of 30mn). However, the larger picture is likely to be correct.
Our new PM has often mentioned in his speeches the idea that Tourism unites while Terrorism divides. All intrepid travellers can easily identify with the notion of tourism uniting people.
How does tourism (and travel in general) really do this? Simple – by exposing us to people different from ourselves.
Enimity is often simply a consequence of prejudice. And prejudice arises from lack of familiarly. Travel, by exposing us to people with different mores from ourselves, sets us up to question our own assumptions & certainties. And, in that questioning lies understanding.
My most vivid experience of this was the 6 month stay I had in Saudi Arabia. On the face, Saudi Arabia is not a country easy to like. In addition to being brutally hot & bereft of any real greenery, it is also infamous for its strictly puritanical approach to women and in fact, to life in general. True to form, I had a bunch of bizarre encounters from the ‘religious police’ to rabid taxi drivers.
But I also did come face to face many other worlds there. On a flight from Dammam to Jeddah, I happened to sit next to a bunch of young Saudi boys, part of a large family, and had one of the most interesting conversations about teenage angst. There was nothing in that conversation that was in any fundamental way different from the preoccupations of my own teenage days – mostly girls, clothes & cars.
I also met people from many parts of the world. An Indian-origin young man from Madagascar who cooked a killer chicken curry with the best of India & Africa blended in. A Somali chartered accountant – I hadn’t ever thought of Somalia as a place which had chartered accountants!
Yes, all real travellers know that Tourism does indeed unite.
The online battle for 2014 has been joined by another active participant. Got this email from Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi party, presumably part of a big outreach to the business community. I like his dedication to the cause of cleansing up what is obviously a creaky system and I certainly admire his personal integrity. What I am troubled by is the sense one gets of a backward-looking socialism in his economic thinking; I believe that is absolutely not the right choice for India.
Dear Hari Nair:
Today, I am writing to a select set of business leaders to seek your support for the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
We are living in a time when corruption is uncontrolled, the rupee is in a free fall, and our natural resources are being plundered. Our political system has deteriorated to such a point that we have criminals routinely contesting and winning elections. This all round slide should deeply concerns every citizen of this country especially those in business. After all, public corruption not only undermines the rule of law, it erodes social trust and the integrity of institutions so necessary for a thriving business culture.
I am sure you agree that unless we put an end to it immediately our country’s future could be jeopardized forever. Surely, we can’t let this happen. But we need to act and act NOW!
AAP is committed to ensuring greater transparency, delivering good governance, implementing strong laws to root out corruption and restoring trust in the political system. We will end the practice of crony capitalism and create an environment that encourages and facilitates businesses to start and thrive. We will strive to create a level playing field and unleash the spirit of entrepreneurship that is naturally ingrained in our people. In short, we will provide the political leadership that envisions and creates an India that does justice to the hopes and aspirations of young Indians.
Hari Nair, I firmly believe that we can resurrect the India story on the global stage. To do this and much more, AAP needs your support. Your support could be decisive for the country.
You can support AAP by donating for our cause, voting for our candidates and passing our message to your friends and co-workers.