On a recent flight back from Delhi, there was a small mix up in getting my web checkin done on time, which led me to be seated in one of the rear rows of the plane. And to my surprise, found a different and interesting world there.
The rear of Indigo flights seem to have people who dont do web checkin. They have kids, large family groups, old couples, first time air travellers and all those people who dont seem to have a blase air of the ‘been-there-done-that’ traveller. I actually found it really refreshing, especially the slightly awestruck wonder that air travel can induce before you get jaded by too much of it.
Took me back in time to my very first flight. I was a gawky youngster on a long hopping old Indian Airlines flight going from one of India’s southernmost small towns to the bright lights of Delhi – the family was moving there and I was a jumble of excitement and trepidation. And I still remember the sense of wonder of that flight.
Although I do remember sitting on one of the forward seats for that journey, I can fully understand what the rest of my fellow passengers felt sitting at the rear of the Indigo flight last week. It was that exact same mix of excitement and trepidation that mark all true wonder.
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.