The Incredible Marketing of India

Singapore has a land area of about 693 sq kms. India has 3.3 million sq km, making us about 5000 times larger than Singapore. In the year 2007, Singapore got over 10 million inbound tourists while India got a little under 5 million foreign tourists, less than half of Singapore . Therefore, using simple arithmetic we are about 10,000 times more inefficient than Singapore in getting inbound tourists. I think that is about right.

What explains this extraordinary incompetence of our country in attracting foreign tourists?

I don’t know.

But a good first step is to provide people wanting to travel to India with some simple, easy to understand information. An obvious place to assess whether we are providing such information is on the national website of our tourism promotion agency (after all, the internet has become the primary & often the only source of information for foreigners). And so I did a tiny exercise to find out Visa information on the Incredible india website and compare it with the tourism promotion website of a high-performing tourism nation, Australia. Here is what I found.

The first para on the relevant page on reads as follows:


You’ll need a visa to enter Australia. Tourist visas are valid for three months, but you can also apply for a longer-term stay. Find out more about the different visas and how to apply.

Contrast this with the opening para of the Visa page on Incredible India, which reads as follows:

Visa fees are non-refundable and subject to change without notice. The High Commission reserves the right on granting and deciding type/duration of visa irrespective of the fees tendered at the time of making application. Granting of Visa does not confer the right of entry to India and is subject to the discretion of the Immigration Authorities. Visa can be applied for in person or by post at the High Commission of India in London. Visa applications from persons not ordinarily residing in the UK or from people of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan origin are considered only in the High Commission of India, London and Consulate General of India, Birmingham and their processing may take one week or in some cases much longer. Applicants not ordinarily resident in the UK and Sri Lankan nationals are required to complete an additional form. Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals have to file special visa application forms. In the following cases processing of applications will take longer: (a) British Nationals holding dual nationality or of other origin, (b) applicants not resident in the UK, (c) where clearance from India is mandatory, (d) visitors to restricted areas and (e) certain cases where documents may need to be verified. Visa Section will contact the applicant about the time of delivery for such passports. Please note that each application is examined individually and the time taken for issuing Visa will vary from case to case.

I don’t know about you, but I found the 34 words on the Aussie site made a lot of sense and invited me in to find out more. In contrast, the 237 words in the first para on Incredible India gives me the strong impression that I am not particularly welcome.


Who writes this stuff?


7 thoughts on “The Incredible Marketing of India

  1. Having met a lot of people from around the globe, I must say that while there are many who would love to come back to India, there are others who are completely turned off by the garbage, smell and poverty around some of our tourist attractions too.

  2. Shantanu – that is a very interesting observation. So, here is the scenario as I see it. There are a group of people in the world who want to come to India and who are ready to put up with the ‘environmental hassles’ of being in India (the filth, poverty etc. that you mention). Then there are people who are put off by all this and do not want to come here at all.

    Putting on my strategic consulting hat, I would first of all focus my attention only on the former group who are ready to come here in spite of the local problems. And make it very easy for them to be here. This would involve getting good information across to them, having reasonable rooms for them to stay in and generally approaching them as if we care.

    Converting those people who do not want to come to India to actually consider India as a tourism destination demands huge resources & will need a certain passage of time. I would not even bother with that market segment to start with.

    Having said all this, here is a perspective I got recently from a European tourism insider who has spent a lot of time taking western tourists into Egypt. Egypt is a much smaller country than ours and gets double our number of inbound traffic. But I was told that the hassles for a western tourist in Egypt are actually higher than in more tolerant India. So, while we do have filth & poverty and we should do something about those, we can substantially increase inbound tourism by focusing on people who want to come in anyways. And, that I know is not a small number at all.

  3. Seriously, who writes such stuff?!

    I once spent quite sometime at the Indian embassy in Paris and though I don’t want to be thankless for all the help they gave me, I realized that getting an Indian visa is a horribly painful process – there was hardly any seating area, queues went up to the street, and they had to come back in the evening to get the passports and go through similar queues over again.
    Also, the tourists here are supposed to go and register in the passport office, get some clearance etc if they stay for a slightly longer duration.

    Why all the barricades?

  4. Hari, came back here after a while and therefore saw the reply only now. I agree with your analysis. However, that is the reason why we cannot compare figures with Singapore. One of the reasons Singapore is popular, not only as a tourist destination, but also as a place of choice to set up a regional HQ in Asia, is because it allows you to get a soft landing into Asia (assuming it is the Western tourist we are marketing to here). There are other areas we need to do something about, eg., religious tourism to Buddhist sites in India.

  5. Shantanu – Yes, Singapore is indeed ‘Asia 101’ for westeners. But a surprising thing for me is how Singapore has quickly adapted itself to the growing tourist outflow from India and China. For many tourists from India & China, Singapore is now ‘World 101’, and I daresay in a few years Asian tourists will vastly outnumber western ones in Singapore.

    The point is that Tourism is a serious, globally competitive business that demands high quality management skills. Given the extraordinary potential here, India has never given tourism its due. The sector is crying out for a bunch of much smarter people to get in – ideally people who have gone through the paces in India’s competitive corporate sector.

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