Leveraging events in tourism marketing

Incredible India should start to look beyond old & tired events like Pushkar Festival & the Alleppey Boat race towards the new-age events of a new-age India.

goMAD_festival

The world does this well..using contemporary local events to showcase tourism. Watch this great culinary plug from Tourism Australia using The Margaret River Gourmet Escape.

Here are some of the more interesting recent events that Incredible India ought to be using in all their promotions:

GoMAD festival in Ooty

Run the Rann in Kutch

World Sufi Spirit Festival in Jodhpur

Escape Festival in Naukuchiatal

 

 

Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival, Bangalore, December 2012

Was at Dr L.Subramaniam’s annual fusion music festival last night. He started with a real foot stomper called ‘Indian Express’ (poetic justice indeed, since the festival itself is sponsored by the Times of India) and ended the evening with Don’t Leave Me. In between were pieces by  his wife Kavita Krishnamurthy, their kids and two other musicians. Except for the odd flash I pretty much forgot HolidayIQ for over 2 hours; evidently the music was absorbing.

A small regret – I would have liked the two global musicians to have got a bit more of play time. Froy Aagre from Norway on the Sax & Chris Rhyne from LA on the keyboards.

India’s inbound tourism – in search of a ‘new’ paradigm

Video

Seeking in India

India has always sold itself well to ‘seekers’, never really to ‘indulgers’. And in this lies our inability (not withstanding the regular self congratulatory blurbs emanating from our tourism ministry) to jump-start our inbound tourism.

‘Indulgers’ look for experience and that means they are looking to do something now – the Today matters to them. ‘Seekers’ on the other hand are looking for answers and are very likely to look for them in the past. And practically no country on earth has so much mind-share of Seekers as India.

The real question I guess is – can India be relevant to both?

The neuroscience of meditation

 

I remember reading some time ago that the Indus Valley civilization (one of the oldest known human civilizations) had no concept of Police, or any other violent means of controlling internal behaviour (different from the notion of a standing army which is meant for repulsing outsiders). The historian-author of that book speculated that internal order was likely maintained by a system of mental conditioning of citizens and not by violence.

This came to mind while recently watching a Google TechTalk video that explored the Neuroscience of meditation (see that excellent – but long – video above). One of the points made by scientist Richard Davidson in that talk is that the practice of meditation, even for a duration as short as 3 weeks,  can actually increase ‘virtuous qualities’ such as Compassion in its practitioners. Here is a serious western scientist demonstrating with western scientific approaches and data, the power of calm contemplation to fundamentally alter human behavior.

It then seems to me no huge surprise that the locus of the science of  such contemplation or meditation lies in the East, particularly in ancient India and thereabouts. For, it seems logical to assume that it was this sort of thing that enabled the peoples of the Indus Valley Civilization to maintain internal harmony without policing. And that if they had figured it out 5000 years ago, it is their direct descendants who are most likely to retain the knowledge.

Sufi Persian Restaurant, Koramangala, Bangalore

I hit this place practically every month and have never found more than 4 other people eating here at the same time. Being alone among 50 tables in a huge restaurant is eerie and if it had not been for ther fact that I have always got the craziest food each time I go there and it never fails me, I would never have gone back. Under the circumstances, I always do.

When Mohit was here a couple of weeks ago, I was able to introduce him to Sufi. Now, I have never taken anybody other than Sunita to this restautant before on the fear that they will end up ordering Indian tandoori stuff, which in comparison to the Gafghazi kebab and such other divine stuff, is abomination. So, it was a relief to be able to take another devotee to pay homage. And boy, did we pray!

Three huge kebab platters and one massive Persian bread.  Not even the slightest hint of oil, lightly done veggies to round out the meat. And the meat – ahhh!!!!

Go there if you are seriously into meat. It is on the top floor of the Empire hotel in Koramangala, 5th block.

A New Delhi Reprise

Getting off the plane, I could not find the baggage conveyor belt. And eventually when I did, there were no baggage trolleys. As I drove in to town, the talking heads were discussing the latest gang-rape, this time of a 30 year old BPO employee in the Dhaula Kuan area. Delhi it seemed was playing true to character.  William Dalrymple in his ‘City of Djinns’ explains how Delhi has been around almost forever, rising and falling with each successive ‘civilization’. I am sure the current avatar is unlikely to be one of its glories.

But it turned out to be a glorious day. One of those bright but crisply cold pre-winter days that along with its quick Spring makes Delhi enchanting for a short while every year. To relive great memories, I went to Nehru Park in Chanakyapuri and wandered all around it with a friend. Shubha Mudgal was playing live & open air in Nehru Park in the evening courtesy Spic Macay, but unfortunately could not catch it.  A real surprise was the tolerance towards canoodling couples. The last time I wandered Delhi’s parks, I recollect cops and similar irritating fauna harassing lovers that inevitably dot parks. Now I saw they were being left alone and wondered what has led to this change. Not being able to put my finger on it, I decided to to attribute to the person to whom all good things in Delhi are usually attributed to :  the Chief Minister, Shelia Dikshit. As we walked on the Vinay Marg side of Neru Park, I also saw the army ground over which, as a teenager, I had seen a small red aircraft do crazily daring maneuvers, while we played cricket below. It was only when news came that Sanjay Gandhi had crash landed & died that  I realised that the little red plane had been piloted by Indira Gandhi’s younger son and heir apparent. Those innocent times having passed, I saw that the army had put up a fence around the ground and I guess kids don’t play there anymore.

And on to Khan Market. Now, Khan Market is not the most natural location to obtain enlightenment, but I came close. At the bookshop there one cold evening I stumbled upon another book that fulfilled the two criteria I always look for in a book – a bright cover and many pages (yup, I know you should never judge a book by its face or by its size, but I do – which of course Outs me on other aspects too I guess). The fat book by Wendy Doniger titled ‘The Hindus – an alternative history‘ seemed too interesting to pass up and so I ended up buying it along with Kakori Kebabs from one of the bylanes; both holding the prospect of a wonderful though solitary evening ahead.

Holiday Dangers

The news that a Zimbabwean tourist taking an outdoor shower in a wildlife camp got killed by pride of lions once again reminds us that vacation trips can have dangers. Remember the 2009 boat tragedy on the Periyar river in Kerala that killed 40 people? Or the large number of tourists that go to our beaches and rivers and get washed away.

Nature is an unforgiving place and those of us who venture out from the confines of our cities should understand this. Many of us don’t and that adds a layer of significant risk to our vacations which often goes unrecognised. The fact that we mostly emerge unscathed from our trips does not mean that we have not, knowingly or unknowingly, taken big risks; it just means we have been lucky.

What is equally disturbing is that safety is an aspect that neither the tourism industry nor the government is paying any attention to in India. It is time that we changed this inattention.

Luxury Hotels

I first stayed in a luxury hotel at the age of 27 and a fine thing it was. The soft beds & fluffy pillows, the scraping & aahing of so many, the big cheque at the end – I knew I was somebody. But unfortunately most of that wonder has now been taken away from me. I still love 5 star hotels. But not for their ability to reinforce my self-esteem but for their capability to deliver extreme physical comfort.

In this, the unkind God we live under has been having a bit of a laugh at my expense. Comfort now is less of huge, plump, soft mattresses and more of the anemically firm; less of the fluffy pillow and more of a tiny cotton one. Of course, a bathtub with running hot & cold water and a case full of assorted unguents can never wither. Nor will a Room Service that can deliver a truly crispy masala dosa at any time of the day or night.

The luxury hotels of the Taj group deliver the most physical comfort in India and that I like. While they can scrape and bow like the best of them, they leave you alone if you are of such a mind. I am & so we get along fine.

 

 

Delhi’s homestays and B&Bs

Sodhi Lodge New Delhi

A little guest house in New Delhi

The commonwealth games were to be the coming-out party for Delhi’s small hotels, home-stays and B&Bs. But as we all know, things did not quite turn out that way. Not too many tourists in Delhi converts into despairing house owners & desolate premises. Not a good situation. But if the experience of places like Coorg in Karnataka and Kochi in Kerala are anything to go by, there is no reason to despair. The emerging breed of travellers – both domestic and international – seem to like alternate accommodations. The better ones among these little places in Delhi will get filled up in time. They just have to hold on.

Do Indians share useful content?

I get asked this question by all kinds of people, mostly by those who have not yet had a chance to use HolidayIQ.com. Obviously I tell them many wonderful things about the hotel reviews we get on the site and the travel photos and videos and…

Here is excellent thread I found on the HolidayIQ forum which I guess answers this question better than any guff I might dish out :)

tour to Sringar and surroundings from Jammu

Postby Kripa Shankar Mani on Thu May 06, 2010 9:13 am

We my wife son daughter-inlaw and two grandsons aged 5 and 3 years) are planning to have a vacation in Srinagar (Kashmir). 

We are planning to start our Journey from Jammu Tawi on 14th June and from there we would head to Srinager by road.

As this is the 1st time we are going to kashmir we would like to visit all the major places of interest there.

Initially I thougth to go to srinagar by my own self driven car but it seems that the journey would be too long and that we would also waste 2 days one reaching to Jammu and One Coming Back From Jammu.

Do not wish to Catch flight directly to Srinager as we would miss the scenic beauty of the area.

Please help me in finalising my plans :

1. Days in Hand between 8 to 12
2. Budget No as such Budget allocated as yet
3. Hotel Preference : No Hi Fi Hotel, Just nice Bed and Breakfast Type.
4. Travelling – by car which should be on our disposal throught from pick up to dropping at Jammu Railway Station.

Would also like to have an idea from fellow imer’s that what should be my Travel Schedule so that the trip could be a memorable one.

Some further questions are :

1. What budget should I consider for the Trip.

2. Are plenty of Taxis available, is there a relaible type of a car rental provider in Jammu or Srinager who can be contacted. what would be the approximate cost of hiring a Taxi for a day.

3. What should be our Travel plans for Road Trip from Jammu to Srinager, where to stop, where to eat and which Hotel to Stay.

4. Which all destination should we go. and which area are safe in Srinagar.

5. Can someone provide the telephone number of some good hotel in Patni top, Srinager, Jammu, Pahagaon, Gulmarg, Boat House, Driver/ Taxi wala, and ofcourse a guide, to get best of the rip.

Any Suggestions/ Amendment and advice would be greatly appreciated.

Regards
K.S. Mani Tripathi

Kripa Shankar Mani
Posts: 8
Joined: Tue Dec 13, 2005 12:00 am

Re: tour to Sringar and surroundings from Jammu

Postby vasudevan on Thu May 06, 2010 10:37 am

dear mani tripathy,let me give some info.
1)budget i wud put aside rs 1500/- per day for food, rs 5000/-for two rooms per night,
2)taxis r plenty available ,it wud be best to hire a SUV from jammu itself for the entire trip.try ur local contacts.
3) yes it wud be foolish to go by air ,the NH1 to srinagar includung the jawahar tunnel is not be missed’
4)i suggest following itenary day 1)drive down to srinagar takes 12 hrs, try reaching b4 8pm.
day2/3/4 ) stay at a boathouse the local people/ houseboat owner will giude u .
day5/6 stay at a nearby lodge in nehru park area visit gulmarg n saffron gardens’
day7) drive down to patni top for a overnight stay unwind with the sheer majestic trees
day8) drive to katra ,walk up to vaishnow devi, evenings r better as day is too hot,TIP-DO NOT LINGER ON TOP TO CATCH UR BREATH,just walk down immedtly and relax in your room’ 

re room bookings try to do it at jktdc cottages etc ,they r ok n easy on d wallet the patni top cottages were simply superb we stayed at at boathouse called ZIGMALAY . and had a lovely time.

throuhout the only jarring note for our 10 day holiday was the abbysymal hygiene at the roadside dhabas. u will need delhi winter clothing during nights

vasudevan
Posts: 6
Joined: Fri Nov 10, 2006 12:00 am

Another travel scam?

HolidayIQ got this email recently…

Hello,

How are you doing! I hope you are fine? I’m sorry i didn’t inform you
about my trip to Scotland for a program, I’m presently in Scotland and
got mugged at a gun point by some armed robbers on my way to the hotel
where my money and other valuable things were kept including my
passport. I would like you to assist me with a loan of 1620Pounds to
sort-out my hotel bills and get myself back home.

I have spoken to the embassy here but they are not responding to the
matter effectively,I will appreciate whatever you can afford to assist
me with,I’ll Refund the money back to you as soon as i return, let me
know if you can be of any help. I don’t have a phone where i can be
reached.

Please let me know immediately.
Regards

DR.THAMMAN

Whither Budget Business Hotels in India?

A few years ago, in one of those ritual paroxysms that grip the Indian business community every so often, everyone decided to set up budget hotels across India. As is wont in such circumstances, serial announcements  were made, each one rivaling the previous about the number of rooms that would be set up across India in just 3 to 4 years. And as is wont again, nothing much has happened since.

Let me tell you why.

The basic premise went thus. With India’s economy booming at almost 10% growth every year there was a lot of new business activity expected. Most of this activity would require people to travel resulting in a huge  increase in the demand for mid-range and economy hotels for these itinerant business men. Given that the current capacity was all in low-end, dirty (nay, mostly filthy) ‘lodges’ that sprout next to bus stands and railway stations, there was clearly an opportunity to provide clean, hygienic, smart hotels that would provide great accommodation at a compelling price point.

Unfortunately, the script has not quite worked out the way it was intended to. Uptake has been sluggish for the few hotels that managed to get launched. And it has left a number of highly-paid heads being scratched vigorously (mostly of people who have never ever done low-end business travel in India themselves).

To understand why the whole things has been a damp squib, a good starting place would be to deconstruct the basic premise I outlined earlier. The hypothesis had the following elements:

1. Indian economy will grow

2. That will lead to massive growth in business travel

3. Most of this additional travel will be in the mid to lower end of the market

4. Evolving consumers will demand a new product in business travel accommodation

5. This ‘new’ product will be ‘hygienic, smart, functional’ rooms at around Rs 1000/- per night cost

My guess is that the first four elements of the hypothesis turned out to be broadly correct although probably much lesser in extent or speed than envisaged in business plans. Extensive reading of hotel reviews on HolidayIQ, lots of conversations with actual consumers and my own personal experience of low-end business travel back in my CA student days suggests to me that the problem is primarily in point 5 above.

We all agree that the average Indian budget business hotel (the ‘lodges’ we talked about) is extremely unhygienic and generally unkempt. But that is to miss the primary value they provide. In addition to providing a room with a bed to sleep on, these lodges provide travellers with a perception of being important. In classic Indian ‘high touch’ style, there are multiple minions (the quintessential ‘chhotus’) who hover around the traveller and cling on to every word and take barked orders with meek accetance and generally scurry about. This sense of finally being a VIP is the biggest value provided by small business hotels to small businessmen. And it is precisely this value that has been lost in the new breed of hotels. With their policy of no room service and general parsimony towards having employees, this new breed of ‘hygienic and smart’ hotels are exactly what their target customer wants to avoid. After all, who wants to walk into a people-less hotel and realise that one is truly unimportant.

And in this lies their failure.

Tata Bilaspur passenger train

This morning the papers were screaming of the maoist attack on the Tata-Bilaspur passenger train.

Segue to 1986 or 1987. I was in a small town in Orissa called Rajgangpur bravely holding up the tail end of an audit team that was trying to unravel the financial goings-on at a cement factory. When I suddenly had the idea of visiting my uncle in Jhumri-Tilayya in what is now Jharkhand (for those ancients among you brought up on Ameen Sayani’s Binaca Geetmala, here is a piece of news – yup, there is actually a place called Jhumri Tilayya and it is now in Jharkhand).

My return journey from JT back to Rajgangpur involved the very same train on the last leg from Tatanagar (or more pithily, ‘Tata’ as Jamshedpur is known in those parts – on a different note, what an  incredible franchise the name Tata is!).

I remember it as the absolute worst train journey of my life (and having managed to get around a reasonable amount of the ‘heart’ of India during my misspent youth, I can assure you that this is quite a record).

The train actually passes through some pretty scenic country. The green, wooded country side of southern Jharkhand melds nicely into the gradually urbanising parts of northern Orissa. But that is where the good part stops.

The train itself was rolling stock left behind from the the first world war, probably imported from the Burma theatre. And god, the smell! On a very hot day, travelling inside a rustic iron dibba with mounds of over-ripe guavas being methodically chewed on (and large parts spat out on the floor) by cheroot smoking little women leads one to question one’s motives in undertaking the journey.

That year I spent on the Orissa-Jharkhand border going back and forth from Delhi was one of the most memorable of my life. And when I recollect the many instances that I came across of the appalling human condition in that land, I can now recognise with the 20/20 of hindsight, a certain inevitability to where we have landed up – the Red Corridor.

Techie Foodie

sixtyfour

(the Artists’ Corner at Sixtyfour)

Bangalore is for obvious reasons flooded with techies. What is interesting is that a clear sub-genus, the ‘techie foodie’, is emerging. And many of them are starting restaurants.

I was in one such place over the weekend. Sixtyfour is a smallish place describing itself as “a bistro & bar featuring great food and music”. Started by 4 techies in a converted Koramangala house, it is intimate and relaxed and yes, actually has pretty decent food – effectively it is everything most lounge bars in Bangalore are not.  Vijesh (my photographer-friend Nagesh’s brother) teamed up with Sameer (who set up a software company, sold it to Mindtree and worked for sometime there), an entrepreneurial IIM – Cal  alumnus via Gulbarga & Ratlam whose name I forget and another techie from Delhi to set up Sixtyfour.

Another such instance I am aware of is Shiok the pan-asian cuisine restaurant on Inner Ring Road near Embassy Golf Links. Madhu, the patron-saint of the place is another techie who forsake the world of bits & bytes to dig deep into ‘makaan’ of east asia.

As our techies travel far & wide across the world, the food enthusiasts among them bring back pieces of the globe to this city. May their tribe grow.

The post-liberalisation generation

I read recently that 2009-10 is an important year for India since all children born during the beginnings of India’s economic liberalisation of 1991-92 turn 18 years of age now.

The news brought back memories. My dad was in the civil services and during that tumultous phase was for a while one of the three secretaries (ie. a  senior bureaucrat) of the ministry of finance during Mr Manmohan Singh’s stint as India’s finance minister. I remember those days being vicariously involved in the whole liberalisation process. Dad would rush off to many meetings looking excited (a 55 year old bureaucrat getting excited is always a sight!) and would come home all agog with the news that things are changing in India.

I was a child of the cusp. My working life started in 1989 just before all this brouhaha (as a trainee software jock in TCS after qualifying as a chartered accountant, but that is another story) and in 1991 the world changed pretty definitively. The most immediate impact of India’s economic liberalisation was that my salary went from an adequate (at that time at least) Rs 2500 per month to an absurdly indecent figure of Rs 10,000 per month. What with that and my dad’s old amby, I was even able to attract girlfriends, which is of course the acme of life at that stage. So, I remain forever a commited free-marketeer and hormones are partly to blame.

Hotel & Resort Chains in India

One of the problems facing travellers in India is the absence of well-known branded Hotel Chains across the country. Even though HolidayIQ has been able to find about 75 odd ‘chains’ (and I must admit, our definition of Chains is quite loose, since any organisation with 2 or more properties under its management is defined as a Chain), all of these between them control a negligible portion of the total number of leisure accommodation options there are.

Take a look at the list here.

I wish the more prominent ones such as Taj Hotels, Fortune Park Hotels, ITC Hotels, Lemon Tree, Club Mahindra etc would rapidly expand and get more Indian hotels and resorts under their wing. It is needed for India’s tourism to go to the next level.

‘Heaty’ food

It was while having a great seafood meal with Carolynn & Wallace at the  ‘No Signboard Seafood Restaurant‘ in the Vivo City Mall in Singapore, that I first heard the word ‘heaty’. Here is the story.

The Chinese overlay the concept of yin & yang on a lot of things and Food is one of them. So all foods are divided into ‘heaty’ foods and ‘cooling’ foods. Fried Food, for example,  is considered ‘heaty’ which means it gets your body all excited and sweaty. According to Chinese grandmothers (who like all other grandmothers have a direct line to secret-stuff), to make things stable, you have to have some ‘cooling’ food along with the ‘heaty’ ones.

Interestingly, this concept is not particularly alien to me since it appears in many local Indian cultures too. The Konkan coast (ie. most of India’s western coast) for example uses Sol Kadi, a drink made from Kokum, to cool down the body after ingesting huge amounts of ‘heaty’ seafood, particularly shrimp (to experience what I am talking about, try one of the famous seafood restaurants of Mumbai such as Mahesh or Saiba). Ayurveda too makes a lot of this concept and recommends eating both hot & cold foods to balance one’s ‘kapha dosha’.

The most interesting aspect of all of this is, how two of Asia’s earliest cultures (and two of the world’s most ancient systems of health-care) both recognise the primacy of ‘balance’ in well-being.

Read all my Singapore posts here & Food Posts here.

Travelocity India

Travelocity is coming through (and not just by buying up Indian companies) – looks like they have some of the better flight deals in the region. I recently found a Bangalore – Singapore return (economy of course) on Singapore Airlines for Rs 11,200. And a Bangkok return for 13,600. Both of which are better than the normal fares offered by m0st travel Agents.

So, if you have the time (or the necessity!) to do research f0r good flight deals, I suggest Travelocity India.

The real internet cometh..

As I sat down for a very late breakfast in an apartment in Gurgaon a few days ago, up came the dhobi. He wanted my help in ‘internetion’, which I eventually interpreted as Internet. A beat-up old sony-ericsson phone was brought out, the internet icon clicked and we were away. Seems his Baba’s sermons are streamed live and he wanted to watch/listen.

Yes, the internet will start to take off soon in India. With the mobile phone all the big barriers to the internet will start to fall. The cost of the access device will be low and you will not need to read and that too in English. You can watch and listen to the internet on the phone. And that I think is what most Indians will do.