(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.
- Enrichment and authenticity
- Partner with community
- Invent the themes that will intrigue visitors
- Engage all the seasons
- 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
- 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
- Personalize and customize your services
- Add interaction and hands-on activities
- Involve local community and mentor them
- 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. As a beginning, the theme can cover Jewelery, Perfumes, Clothing & Transportation (chariots, howdahs etc). The manifestation of the theme can be very multifaceted. It can cover exhibitions, shops, manufacturing, home-stays etc.
Engage all the seasons: This I think is one of the most under-applied principles in Indian tourism. The Indian summer is pretty hot, so we get no tourists at this time. But, think of how we can create a unique experience around this. To me, one of the most impressive features of Mughal architecture was the network of little waterways & fountains across the entire palace that enabled the central asian Mughals to brave the heat of the Indo-gangetic plain. How can we re-create this experience?
Include access to people: For 15 days in a year, the direct descendant of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor will be available at Agra. She will personally talk to a select audience everyday for these 15 days and give them a peek into the world of her ancestors. Extremely unique & authentic, this should be able to bump up the price of an upmarket Taj holiday package by about USD 250 to 500 per person.
Invent new forms of programs: Yup, I really like this. My earlier thought on the bazaar works great for this, especially if that can be clubbed with highly interactive stuff. How about setting aside an area in the bazaar as a street theatre area? In this place, locals as well as travellers are encouraged to come up and show their stuff. From juggling to karaoke, the idea being to mix the modern with the ancient, Indian with foreign and for everyone to have a good time at it. I saw something like this done in Ingos’ night market in Goa and I think that is the right direction.
….and so it can go on…
Wonder why nobody does such stuff in India – there is so much raw material to work on. Unfortunately I haven’t as yet found anybody who will pay me to put together such ideas.
Hulloooo, anybody there?
Now, about the photo at the top. The photo is of Begum Laila Umahani, direct descendant of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal ruler of Delhi. If history had not taken its inexorable course, she would have been sitting on the peacock throne in Delhi. But now, this last of the direct descendants of the Mughals who ruled India for 332 uninterrupted years, lives in a 3 room house in Hyderabad.