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?
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.
The New York Times has just listed the top places it recommends its readers to visit in 2010. And our neighbourhood is all over it. Sri Lanka takes the top spot, now that the bloodshed has ceased. And Mysore comes in at the 4th place. Read it all here.
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.
Run-of-the-mill tourism marketing video, except for one device. The voice over, which is that of a small kid, chanting la-la-la. If you plan to target the ‘family’ market, this is a pretty cool device to complete the association. Also, the video is a bit speeded up which presumably helps in a ‘gasp-isn’t-it-fun’ kind of way.
With almost 150,000 travel maniacs as members, HolidayIQ has been bombarded with the question of organising some kind of a get-together for members. So, finally we decided to take a small step and have a cocktails & dinner evening in Mumbai. We also got Yossi Ghinsberg, one of the better known international motivation speakers to be a focal point of the evening. Not as a motivational speaker, but as a traveller and a nomad which is what Yossi’s true passion is.
So, a couple of Fridays ago, about 50 of us trooped into a room at the Leela Kempinski in Mumbai and had a great time.
Yossi spoke of his travels worldwide. About his longstanding love affair with the Bedouins. And how he went to the remotest island in the Pacific. And many more. While each story stuck in my mind, a couple of points he made about travel really resonated with me.
He said he always travels alone, since that is the only way to connect with the place and the people. I find this absolutely true and this is what I do every time I ‘travel’ (ie. when I am not taking a vacation with my family). Incidentally, Paul Theroux mentioned something similar in a recent talk – read related posts here & here.
Yossi also said he uses the Lonely Planet each time he travels – and he uses it in a pretty unique way. He decides on a country to go and then looks up the Lonely Planet and reads it from cover to cover . Then he finds a place on the map of the country that is NOT covered in the Lonely Planet. He goes there. The idea, he said, was to go to places that even backpackers don’t get to. That is when you see the real country.
Yossi lives in Byron Bay in Australia, a place I went to about a year ago. Of course, I didn’t know Yossi then and so didn’t meet him. But I now have an invite from him to visit Byron Bay & since it is one of the more beautiful places I have been to, I just might take him up on it sometime.