April 05, 2020
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!ntimate Escapades

India gets an image makeover and a brand identity with which to market itself at home and abroad

!ntimate Escapades
!ntimate Escapades
It's an incredible duo. A no-nonsense minister who gets things done whether it's demolishing illegal constructions in the capital or building new infrastructure at select sites to woo tourists. And a bureaucrat who can take credit for transforming Kerala into 'God's own country'. Tourism minister Jagmohan and joint secretary in the tourism ministry Amitabh Kant have embarked on a mission to make India an irresistible destination for foreign and domestic tourists.

Named 'Incredible !ndia', the project is a new branding strategy to sell India as a premier tourist destination. The aim is to follow in the footsteps of nations like Thailand and Malaysia which successfully came up with clear brand identities like 'Amazing Thailand' and 'Malaysia, Truly Asia'. Both the number of tourists as well as per capita spends in the two Asian countries have gone up after their campaigns were launched with gusto. Now Jagmohan and Kant think they can do the same for India.

Explains Kant, "It is important to brand a country, and the word 'incredible' captures all that India has." In fact, working with advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather (O&M), the ministry chose the word after considering several options like 'mystical' and 'kaleidoscopic'. "Our brief was clear," says Vibha Desai, executive director, o&m. "We had to convey everything in a word that could be understood by different people across the world, even those for whom English was not the first language."

Pinpointing a unique identity was possibly the easiest bit. Now, it has to backed by aggressive marketing, a huge budget and a serious endeavour to improve tourism infrastructure in the country. The ministry seems to have thought about these aspects too. Admits Jagmohan, "Now there is going to be no general talk. We have to show specific results and for that implementation is very important."

By this year-end, a Rs 10-crore ad blitz will hit television, print and online media, designed to woo the international tourist. Simultaneously, India will be showcased under its new image at various trade fairs and travel marts. The entire campaign will focus on four critical themes under the overall umbrella of an incredible country. These include mind, body and soul (spirituality and yoga); heritage (monuments and cultural sites); the Himalayas; and wildlife.

In fact, the ads worked out by o&m show 72 visuals, ranging from tigers, beaches, desert scenes, the Taj Mahal and places of worship. The target in the initial phase will be Asian, European and American markets and the government has included publications like and National Geographic, and travel magazines like Conde Nast Traveler in the media plan. However, the Centre's initiatives will need to be coordinated with those of individual states, which have decided to sell their own distinct identities.

To cite a few examples, Uttar Pradesh has positioned itself as the "land of the Taj," Orissa is "the soul of India" and Bastar is being promoted as "not just an escape (but)—a discovery". Henceforth, these campaigns will be created under the catch-all 'Incredible !ndia'. Underlining this, tourism secretary Rathi Vinay Jha says, "While we build a brand equity for India, the states will simultaneously use the byline of Incredible !ndia so that there is cohesion between the Centre and the individual states."

Similarly, the Centre and the respective states will have to work together in creating the right tourism infrastructure in places likely to attract the most number of tourists. Jagmohan has identified 50 such hubs, including Delhi's Red Fort, Maharashtra's Ajanta and Ellora caves, Bihar's Bodh Gaya and Kerala's Fort Cochin. In Ajanta and Ellora, Rs 130 crore (of the budgeted Rs 430 crore) has already been spent on building a green belt, running battery-operated vehicles and shifting shops and other conveniences to a new complex built three km away.

But the lack of infrastructure and inadequate facilities could well prove to be the difference between success and failure of India's bid to woo travellers. Even in the past, India's tourism policies have flopped because scant attention was paid to this front. Statistics too show that India's share in world tourism (in terms of volume) is an insignificant 0.38 per cent. Besides, there's the fact that a foreign tourist spends a mere $42-43 per day during his stay in India, compared with $350 for Singapore.

Obviously, things need to change dramatically. "We have identified tourist destinations and are now going about setting them right from the point of tourists' arrival to the point of their departure," says Kant. For once, funds may not prove to be a problem. In the Tenth Plan, the outlay for tourism has been increased nearly six-fold, from Rs 525 crore in the Ninth Plan to Rs 2,900 crore. Of this amount, approximately 60 per cent will fund infrastructure projects, while the remaining will go into advertising and marketing.

Another key objective of the Jagmohan-Kant initiative is to sell India in newer markets. While the UK, US, and France have traditionally contributed most of the inbound travellers, the tourism ministry now wishes to attract people from East Asian countries like China, Japan and South Korea as well as those like Turkey. This shift is aided by the fact that post-September 11, the international trend has shifted from long-haul travel to short-haul trips. This means most tourists now want to go to places which are nearer home.

After September 11, the Indian industry has also begun recognising the worth of the domestic traveller. The reason: foreign tourists cancelled their proposed trips to countries like India, but domestic tourism registered a more than 30 per cent growth in 2001. Worse, in the past, as Kant puts it, India concentrated on international tourism unlike other countries which first develop domestic tourism. "Under the new plan, we will actually give an impetus to domestic tourism, which will then act as a springboard to boost international tourism," says Kant.

Interestingly, the tourism industry in India is not cynical about the new initiative. They prefer the phrase "better late than never" over "a case of too little, too late", to describe the ongoing activity. Probably they are buoyed by the fact that foreign arrivals registered a growth of 16.8 per cent in October 2002, compared to the figure in the same month last year. One only hopes that the present mood of optimism and urgency in the ministry does not end with a whimper or, worse, with a cabinet reshuffle.
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