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 National Trust of India?

Kochi, Kerala

Hill Palace Museum : Kochi, Kerala

While in Kerala over the last few days of 2008, I happened to visit a couple of colonial heritage buildings. One was the Kanakakunnu palace in Trivandrum (easily one of the prettier buildings I have ever laid my eyes on – and, rumour has it, where my parents threw their post-marriage do) and the Hill Palace musuem in Kochi, both ancillary residences of the local royalty.

Unfortunately, in the tender, loving care of the Kerala government they look ravaged and completely uncared for. It is when one sees this sort of neglect that one realises how impotent our State is and equally, how impotent we are in not being able to get the State to do anything better. This is pretty much the same story of most of our architectural heritage across India, whether it is maintained by State governments or by the Archeological Survey of India.

Contrast this to the state of affairs in the UK. They have something called the National Trust which is a registered charity that takes care of both the Natural as well as Built-up heritage of that nation.

The first thing that strikes one about the National Trust is its motto – For ever, For everyone. It isnt a government bueraurcracy dedicated to ‘protection’ (have you noticed how all government departments and organisations always ‘protect’ something – which means you and I can get pretty nothing of any value from it. The idea seems to be to protect it from the citizens) . The National Trust is a charity with 3.5 million ordinary British Citizens as its members and over 50,000 volunteers. It seems to have grasped the simple principle that National Heritage belongs to all citizens and a well managed method of involving people in conservation through an enjoyable process of education & particpation is the best way to ‘protect’ heritage.

It is certain that our ASI and our bureaucrats in local governments will never be able to grasp such heretical nonsense. So, isnt it time for all of us to work towards our own National Trust – free from any politican or bureaucrat? Previous generations that occupied our land over the last 5500 years have contributed much to humanity. Allowing the remains of their contribution to be in a state of gradual decay is deeply irresponsible of us.

Requiem for an airport

(The world has gone away…)

They closed it down last week; the old HAL airport in Bangalore, that is. I was there on its last day to say farewell. And in spite of all its inadequacies (there were too many), I felt not a little sadness. It is small, impersonal events such as this that sometimes tell me how much the world we are all so familiar with is now coming to a close.

In a decade, I am sure India will have spanking infrastructure in most of its cities and the misery of trying to lead a highly productive life in the midst of such crumbling old world infrastructure would be a thing of the past. Indeed, it is our generation that has borne the brunt of it, since most of us would have lived a good part of our life in the cusp between ‘third-world’ and ‘advanced’. What that also means is that we will be the last generation to remember India ‘the way it was’.

As I watch my sons grow up, I am relieved that the India we are moving into will probably give them everything they need to ‘succeed’ without the daily struggle we are all so familiar with. But, I am definitely left with a niggling thought that there were a few things that we had good in ‘the old times’. Such as not needing to choose too much (for example in my childhood, Indians cars came in 2 models – Fiat and Ambassador and in about 4 colours!). Or walking across to the cranky, neighborhood kirana guy for a toothpaste (you will now probably go to a Reliance outlet where the salesman will paste on a plastic smile & wish you ‘a good day’ – God forbid!)

Anyway, to come back to the old HAL airport. Over the last 10 years (almost 8 of which I have lived in Bangalore), I have probably used the airport about 500 times. And I still cannot get over my first experience (circa 1997) of returning from a hot & dusty Delhi to a wonderful cool breeze late in the evening in Bangalore and walking across the tarmac to a little terminal in which my 50 odd co-passengers were the only souls about.

Sorry baby, I loved you in my own way, but I gotta let you go now. That is the way of the world.

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

Stereotypes : the quintessential Indian Tourist, part I

Last week, Sidin Vadukut of Mint sent me a few questions on the “quintessential Indian tourist”, which made me think a bit – and attempt a post on it. (Incidentally, do watch out for his piece later this month on Mint Lounge)

First of all, Sidin’s questions:

Indians are obessed with a few destination nations ; US, Singapore and Hong Kong. Is this true? Why is this? Surely people are aware of more places to go to.

Beaches, amusement parks, resorts and mountains. Is that all the Indian tourist cares about? A recent Kuoni survey seemed to think so.

One of the great joys of going abroad is the food & drink. But do Indian travellers prefer to carry teplas and pickle instead? Are we greatly opposed to eating food abroad?

A recent Expedia survey indicated that Indian tourists were some of the rudest passengers abroad. Only after the French. Is this a true representation of reality? Are we really bad? Or are we just perceived to be so beacuse of language issues and an inherent fear of being ripped off?

Are we stingy travellers? Do we count every penny that leaves our pockets? Is that why some hoteliers are terrified of us?

These are some of the popular stereotypes of the Indian tourist. What is your take on them? Are we just misunderstood? Or is it the sad truth?

Since answering all the questions will result in me being awarded an M.Phil (a highly undesirable condition at my stage of life), let me try a general take on a single aspect : the Indian tourist stereotype.

So, here goes.

I actually think this is great news, Indian tourists getting stereotyped that is. Continue reading