Domestic tourists are from Mars, Inbound tourists are from Venus – Part I

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 🙂

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Bad airport models 101 : Kochi airport

Anyone who has used Indian airports know that most of them are truly terrible. And if you have ever read the various international surveys of airports across the world, you will know that India’s airports always make up the tail end of these lists. Quite clearly, the Indian airport scene is bad.

The new Kochi airport was heralded as the beginning of the brave new world. Unfortuantely, Kochi airport to my mind is the absolute worst structure of airport management that has been devised yet. Let me tell you why.

There are 2 ways of running an airport. The first is the traditional way where the government runs it and where everyone using it is miserable. The second is where the government finds out that it knows very little of running modern airports and gets a specialist, private sector operator to run it on a day-to-day basis.

Kochi airport unfortunately has got the wrong end of the stick. In a peculiar parody, the money for the new Kochi airport has been put up by private sector investors and its operational management is in the hands of government bureaucrats and the public sector. In fact, most of the operations at the airport is managed by Air India, one of the world’s worst airlines (ranked in the bottom ten by Zagat). Pretty crazy, huh?

I was reminded of all this when I read a HolidayIQ review by a frustrated user of the airport. Here is a link to that review.

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.

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.

Can the Calicut Heritage Forum preserve the best of Malabar food?

chemmeen_prawn-biryani-_calicut_malabar.jpg

(Photo of Malabar Prawn Biryani, from Eastern Spices)

Ever since Sunita’s family introduced me to the absolutely crazy food in Calicut (Kozhikode), I consider myself a staunch honorary citizen. If luscious food weren’t enough, Calicut is also one of India’s ancient cities; the centre of the old world’s spice trade, particularly Pepper trade. So, it has Food & History going for it, which is two strong strikes for that city.

So, when I heard that the good citizens of the city have set up a Calicut Heritage Forum, I was very pleased. Continue reading