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.

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.

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

Researching Holidays Online

ASIA

 

Here is why I love the business I am in – because it piggybacks on the biggest thing in Travel since the Wheel (ok – mild exaggeration, but still…)

The Internet has become the most popular medium for Chinese travellers seeking information about their trips, according the latest Nielsen China Outbound Travel Monitor. The Nielsen survey found that travellers will search for conventional destination information ahead of their trips (61 percent of leisure trips taken), and then turn to online travel discussion forums (48 percent) to fine-tune their plans. This suggests that opinions and comments about travel experiences posted to online forums are nearly as likely to influence travellers’ decisions as the destination websites themselves. Conventional travel agents were approached on only two in five travel occasions.

The Nielsen survey also found that travellers were much more likely to recall seeing Internet advertising for travel destinations, compared to seeing travel advertising on other mediums. Close to 70 percent could recall seeing travel advertisements on the Internet, with only four in 10 recalling seeing a travel advertisement in a magazine or newspaper, at a travel agent or on TV and radio.

Read the full article here..

Immigration

Immigration officials across the world are all sent to this common, secret school (run, I suspect by particularly virulent commissars of the ex-USSR) where they are taught the essential niceties of their job – a deeply suspicious look & the ability to never ever let the slightest smile (or even a suspicion thereof) escape on to one’s face, being the most important.

Two countries I have visited stand apart in this – Cyprus & Thailand.

The gate-keepers at the Larnaca airport smiled at me (giving me the heebeejeebies, since to the best of my prior knowledge these guys smile only when about to effect a cop) and – I kid you  not – asked about the weather back home.

The guys at Phuket were the best of the lot. Their interaction was as between mature adults. A smile breaking out of a ‘yeah, we know you are here only to have a good time and as soon as your money runs out, you will go away – but we gotta do this…’ look.

I have been to Saudi Arabia too, where I met the guys who took all the prizes at the commissar’s school.

City-breaks in India

Why is that nobody in India (well, almost nobody) goes to another city in India on a holiday? In many countries, going to another city is a valid &  interesting vacation for most people. They might take in a play, do some fun shopping, eat interesting stuff on street corners, go to a bunch of attractions in and around the city and generally enjoy themselves silly.

In India, come weekends or vacations all we want to do is run away from the city we live in and hit the countryside. Which, given the conditions under which we live is understandable, I guess. But I am surprised at the lack of effort by city worthies to make our cities more tourist friendly. The reason I say that is, most of our big cities have some unique stuff to add to a vacation experience and need not be such bad options for a quick break – even with the traffic jams, a broken down power system and the bug-bear of them all, the monsoons. And of course, given the absence of business travel on weekends can actually help all businesses depending on the traveller.

Well, like everything else in Indian tourism, looks like nobody relevant has got around to thinking about it. What a poor, orphaned child Indian tourism is! Which is probably just as well, considering what could happen if our ‘leaders’ actually get into the act.

One day in an ancient Indian city

One of the tragedies of India’s tourism is the lack of surviving physical structures of the pre-colonisation period (ie. before the 1600s). Varanasi is of course there, as the world’s oldest continuing city. But a lot of the magnificence is no more to be seen. On a visit to Tanjavur last year, I was able to see the extraordinary temple there that the great Raja Raja Chola built and so get a glimpse of the creative outpouring that fed big stuff like Angkor Wat and Ayuttaya in other lands.

So, it strikes me that ancient India’s cities (of the likes of Thanjavur & Konark) must have been fascinating places in their golden moments and if ‘recreated’ well, can add a lot more depth to our tourism. And with this thought in mind, I have been scouring a lot of literature to find out exactly how an ancient Indian city would have been.

I struck pay-dirt a couple of years ago and not in any obscure place as you might imagine. It was in A.L Basham’s seminal historical work, ‘The Wonder That Was India‘, where he quotes an early Tamil poem, the ‘Garland of Madurai‘ which describes a day in the life of the city of Madurai. Captivating stuff. And since I cannot do any better, I am reproducing in its full, the relevant page from that book. Here it is (it is a much longer piece than I would normally have in this blog where I have a self-imposed rule of brevity, but its beauty lies in its comprehensiveness and so..):

The poet enters the city by its great gate, the posts of which are carved with images of the goddess Lakshmi, and  which is grimy with ghee, poured in oblation upon it to bring safety and prosperity to the city it guards. It is a day of festival, and the city is gay with flags, some presented by the king to commemorate brave deeds, flying over the homes of captains, and others waving over the shops which sell gladdening toddy. The streets are broad rivers of people, folk of every race, buying and selling in the market-place or singing to the music of wandering minstrels.

A drum beats, and a royal procession passes down the street, with elephants leading to the sound of conchs. A refractory beast breaks his chain, and tosses like a ship in an angry sea until he is again brought to order. Chariots follow, with prancing horses and fierce footmen.

Meanwhile stall-keepers ply their trade, selling sweet cakes, garlands of flowers, scented powder and betel quids. Old women go from house to house, selling nosegays and trinkets to the womenfolk. Noblemen drive through the streets in their chariots, their gold-sheathed swords flashing, wearing brightly-dyed garments and wreaths of flowers. From balconies and turrets the many jewels of the perfumed women who watch the festival flash in the sunlight.

The people flock to the temples to worship to the sound of music, laying their flowers before the images and honouring the holy sages. Craftsmen work in their shops – making bangles of conch shell, goldsmiths, cloth-dealers, coppersmiths, flower-sellers, vendors of sandalwood, painters and weavers. Foodshops busily sell their wares – greens, jak-fuit, mangoes, sugar candy, cooked rice and chunks of cooked meat.

In the evening the city prostitutes entertain their patrons with dancing and singing to the sound of the lute, so that the streets are filled with music. Drunken villagers, up for the festival, reel in the roadways, while respectable women make evening visits to the temples with their children and friends, carrying lighted lamps as offerings. They dance in the temple courts, which are clamorous with their singing and chatter.

At last the city sleeps – all but the goblins and ghosts who haunt the dark, and the bold housebreakers, armed with rope ladders, swords and chisels, to break through the walls of mud houses. But the watchmen are also vigilant, and the city passes the night in peace.

Morning comes with the sound of brahmans intoning their sacred verses. The wandering bards renew their singing, and the shopkeepers busy themselves opening their booths. The toddy-sellers again ply their trade for thirsty morning travellers. The drunkards reel to their feet and once more shout on the streets. All over the city is heard the sound of opening doors. Women sweep the faded flowers of the festival from their courtyards. Thus the busy everyday life of the city is resumed.

The star tourism product for karnataka

Recently, my friend Rohit Hangal posed an interesting question on one of the Tourism Groups on Linked In. His question was:

If we had to chose among one ‘attraction/destination’ in ‘Bangalore/Karnataka’, what would that be and the reasons for it – Scouting for that one ‘Star Tourism Product’.

I love the question, because I believe the bane of Indian tourism is trying to ‘sell’ too many things at the same time.

Therefore, let me attempt an answer:

I don’t think I know Karnataka well enough to pop up all of the options. But having spent too many years in Management Consulting, I cannot avoid the temptation to develop a framework to find an answer. So, here is my 2-bit on this.

It should be:

- Relevant – relevant to the target market. If we assume the target market is the 25 to 45 year old India urban-dweller, then we better make sure s/he is truly interested in what we come up with. if we assume that the market is 60+ year Caucasians, that is another story.

- Defensible – we must be able to able to ‘defend’ it from other competing offerings. that is, there should be no threat of it becoming a ‘me-too” product. Would any World heritage work? Unlikely, since many other states also have ‘world heritage sites’

- Desirable – the people of Bangalore / karnataka (ie. the ‘owners’ of the attraction) must feel that this is a ‘desirable’ facet to promote. If ordinary folks are in some way not quite convinced, all of the effort will go in vain. For, every time the tourist comes into contact with the real product, there will be a strong possibility of disappointment.

- ready – the product must be ready for sale. Which means, a reasonable amount of necessary infrastructure (both core & tourism infrastructure) should already be in place

Any ideas?

Learning from Thailand’s tourism

We all know that Thailand has a pretty effective inbound tourism sector, clocking up about 3 times the number of foreign tourists we get (just to keep this stat in context, India has 6 times the land mass of Thailand and of course 20 times its population).

My recent trip to Phuket gave me some clues as to why this happens. The most important reason that I can see is that the Thai people are ‘naturals’ for tourism, with a warm & cheery disposition that makes an outisder welcome immediately. The second key reason is that the logistics of tourism involving the co.ordination of activities between multiple small actors works surprisingly smoothly in that country.

Let me take an example. We did a a one-day trip to Phang Nga, the place made famous by innumerable photos of awesome towering limestone rocks and sea caves. We booked this trip with a small tour operator just outside our hotel in the Karon beach area. ‘Tuk’, the smiling and cheerful young lady who ran the outfit spent enough time with us to go through all the options needed before consensus could be reached by an opinionated family of 4.  Then she made a call, confirmed availabilty and booked us for the trip. She said the cab to pick us would reach at 9 am the next morning.

It did. The cabbie picked up a couple of more small groups in a clean van and drove us over a neat expressway for about an hour to the pier from where we were to take a boat. At the pier we were met by ‘ying ying’ another smiling thai girl (so now you now why they get a real rep!) who was to be our guide on the boat trip. We got on to the boat and reached the caves where we were transferred to small canoes handled by young local lads. And then we were shifted to a small man-made island on stilts where we had lunch at a small restaurant. And so on..

Here is the notable thing. Tuk, the cabbie, ying-ying, the canoeists, the floating restautant – none of these people were officially a part of the company that operated the trip. However, every person performed their role to perfection and with complete predictability. We did not have to call or talk to anyone to co-ordinate anything. Imagine the same thing in India – the likelihood of one of these pieces not working seamlessly would have been very high.

I do not know how the Thais do this. But I do know one thing. If we can emulate this to even 50% of the efficiency of the Thais, we can substantially improve our tourism image.

Accessible Travel

I had never really thought of it before; the needs of the disabled when they travel. While traipsing around India in the last 10 days (I did Bangalore to Chennai to Bangalore to Delhi to Chennai to Tanjore to Chennai to Bangalore, which explains my disappearance from this blog for some time), I came across the group that was in India for a series of conferences on Accessible Travel, which is short-hand for ‘doing all of those things that help disabled travellers travel easier’.

Met a couple of interesting people that evening in Delhi – guys who are opening up a world of easier travel for the disabled.

Scott Rains : Scott is the man who put the disabled on the world agenda. He coined practically all the phrases that are today the cornerstones of all discourse on disability, including Universal Design. In fact, almost all US legislation on disability has the Rains imprimatur. Read Scott’s writings at the Rolling Rains report here.

Craig Grimes : Craig was the first person to demonstrate conclusively that the disabled are a definite ‘market’ in world travel. While living in Barcelona, Craig set up AccessibleBarcelona, a tour operator focused on helping the disabled have a good holiday in Barcelona. And made it into a viable and vibrant business. Craig now lives in Nicaragua and is at it again. Check out his latest venture – AccessibleNicaragua.

I also met Jani Nayar of Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality in NY. They are a Non-profit that works to increase awareness of the needs of the disabled for Travel.

A common theme that ran through all of the conversation was the notion that disabled travellers form a large market. And that it is in the interest of the travel trade to focus on this market and make it easier for the disabled to get around.

India’s biggest tourism promotion website

Have been wondering which website is doing most for marketing Indian tourism. So, I did a quick check of recent Alexa numbers (see chart above) for Incredible India (the official promotion website of India’s tourism ministry) and the sites of two of India’s premier tourism states, kerala Tourism and Rajasthan Tourism.

Surprisingly, the Kerala Tourism site gets more traffic than the Incredible India site, which is a bit for a shame for the Incredible India guys. Incredible India however did get a huge spike in traffic (a few months before the beginning of period I have taken this chart for) when had a massive ad campaign underway – obviously, they were not able to hold on to the audiences after the campaign got over, which seems a real pity.

And since I couldn’t resist it, I also compared these 3 sites wth HolidayIQ which at the moment also exclusively contains tourism information on India. HolidayIQ beat all these sites by a huge distance. Of course, this is a slightly unfair comparison, since HolidayIQ is not a tourism promotion site but a site for India’s domestic holiday-goers to plan vacations. Which, come of to think of it, is probably not very different from what these sites ought to be doing.

North Cyprus Tourism Video

Run-of-the-mill tourism marketing video, except for one device. The voice over, which is that of a small kid, chanting la-la-la. If you plan to target the ‘family’ market, this is a pretty cool device to complete the association. Also, the video is a bit speeded up which presumably helps in a ‘gasp-isn’t-it-fun’ kind of way.

Click here for all my posts on Tourism Marketing

Click here for all my posts on Cyprus

Segway across New Zealand, Turkey and soon all over the world

Ok, this is an interesting one. Kevin Hey and a bunch of other guys now offer tours that allow you to explore New Zealand’s cities on a Segway. You remember the Segway Personal Transporter? Those contraptions that allow you to stand on them and move about on wheels.

Looks like Segways are catching on in Tourism. I came across a video that show Beach Resorts in Turkey using them (see the video on top). A friend of mine in the travel business in Goa tells me that a couple of resorts there are thinking of getting a few here too.

On my recent visit to Dubai, I happened to glimpse a chap tearing across a boulevard near my hotel on a segway, a sight which rang all the right bells in me. I would certainly like to have one, although driving one around in any Indian city is asking for serious trouble. In Bangalore, I will most likely disappear down a man-hole never to be heard of again. I can think of at least 3 people who would like that.  :)

View of Dubai from a helicopter

Anshul & Rashi took their 5 year old up in a helicopter over Dubai. It costs US$ 800 for a 30 minute (max. 5 adults) and they say it is well worth it. Here is some of what they saw. Check it out the next time you are in Dubai.

A Dubai Panorama

The Burj Al Arab & Jumeirah beach Hotel

The Burj Dubai on its way to becoming the world’s tallest building

Cranes over Hotel Atlantis

Click on for a few more photos.

Continue reading

What is your HolidayIQ? – sneak preview of the travel game on Orkut

HolidayIQ has developed a Travel game called “Your HolidayIQ” which is now live on Orkut. It is designed to help you test how smart a holiday-goer you are. It can be accessed using the link below.

 http://www.orkut.co.in/Application.aspx?appId=574005842398

This is a game where the application gives out a tourism destination name and the player tries to point it on the India map within 10 seconds and gets reward points based on your accuracy. The better your tourism geography knowledge, the more points you get.

Since this is a first-cut beta version and is still work-in-progress, there will be some bugs. If you come across any errors, do let me know – I have already found a few places mapped wrong, which we are setting right. But do let me know if you notice any.

Incidentally, just in case any of you have escaped having an Orkut log-in till now, you can use your gmail id to log in. Happy playing.

Dubai after 15 years

I was last in Dubai before it went beserk, about 15 years ago. As I write this post, sitting at the Jumeriah Beach hotel facing the Burj Al Arab, it is pretty clear that the madness here has some kind of a faintly discernible method. The method is, build fast, build more and build the mostest and they will come. And, so far, it seems to be working. Which beats me. Who in the right sense would want to go to the muggy water’s edge of the Arabian desert that is completely built up like Gurgaon? A lot of people apparently. After all, Gurgaon is at the edge of the Thar desert and the Arabian desert is a BIGGER desert. As usual, Dubai triumphs!

Indiana Jones Vacations from Expedia

Expedia.com has a nice set of itineraries built on the Adventures of Indiana Jones. Titled ‘Indiana Jones Travel Experiences’, it covers itineraries in India, Egypt, Italy, China, Jordan, Mexico, Nepal, Peru & USA. Sounds interesting. Check it out.

The most chilling sentence in world tourism

Of late, I have been researching Africa. Going by my past experience of my own behaviour, a trip there seems imminent.

But I was brought up short by this one sentence. I was on the Zambia tourism website, in the section which gives you lots of information on how to travel around the wonderful country of the Zambezi river & Victoria falls. Right at the bottom of the page, after all the enthusiastic stuff about Rail journeys inside Zambia, is one line, lurking all by itself. It reads:

“To be safe, ask the station police to escort you to a taxi”

Best Summer Holiday Destinations in India

Here is a list of top (popular) destinations that Indian tourists are going to inside India during Summer 2008. This is from a tourism trends document recently released by HolidayIQ, part of a series called Holiday Intelligence.

Western region – Goa, Mahabaleshwar, Ganapatipule, Matheran, Alibaug

Southern region – Coorg, Bangalore rural, Kodaikanal, Nagarhole, Ooty

Northern region – Srinagar, Manali, Mussoorie, Jaipur, Binsar

Eastern region – Puri, Digha, Kolkata, Raichak, Shantiniketan

North-east – Gangtok, Shillong, Pelling, Guwahati

I had a lot of fun working on this along with the team – some cool insights there about Indian tourists. Incidentally, here is a link to a recent article in the Economic Times which quoted extracts from Holiday Intelligence.

If you’d like a copy of the document, send a mail to holidayintelligence@holidayiq.com.

What makes for great tourism : remaking the Taj Mahal experience

(Guess whose photo this is! Answer at the bottom of this post)

Recently ran into an interesting check-list of items to be addressed to create great tourism experiences.

  1. Enrichment and authenticity
  2. Partner with community
  3. Invent the themes that will intrigue visitors
  4. Engage all the seasons
  5. Increase the value inside the tourism experience by including access to people, a unique activity, or combination of both. When you do this , you can increase the selling price
  6. Invent new forms of programs that incorporate new mixes of activities, people, traditions and places that showcase and celebrate the community. Invention is the key
  7. Personalize and customize your services
  8. Add interaction and hands-on activities
  9. Involve local community and mentor them
  10. Add specific local retail items into the experience or package.

Ok. So let us try to apply this check-list to something we know. How about India’s best known attraction, the Taj Mahal? (Given the very sterile and – sometime very hassling – experience that is visiting the Taj Mahal, I think some creative thought can help). Here is my take on how one could apply some of these principles to the tourism experience of the Taj Mahal.

Enrichment & Authenticity : An ‘immersion’ into the world of Shah Jahan – how about setting up a place where travellers can experience in at least a small way, the nature of life at the time of Shah Jahan. Maybe, this can be in the form of a bazaar recreated in authentic historical detail.

Partner with Community: An obvious area would be to bring in the community into this bazaar. There are other options to bring in local musicians, artisans & cooks into an authentic street scene.

Invent themes that will intrigue visitors: How about “Luxury in the time of the Mughal”, a theme of what it meant to indulge in luxury fit for a king in Shah Jahan’s time. This can cover so many aspects, it is almost endless. Continue reading