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Incredible India- “The smart way to see the world”

There are some campaigns which are so effective, that they succeed in converting an ordinary nation into the ultimate tourist destination. In the area of destination marketing, it’s as much about the perception of the destination that you create, as it is about the place itself. The Malaysian tourism campaign is one example for such a campaign. By branding the nation with the simple tagline “Malaysia – Truly Asia”, the tourism department was successful in not only creating an identity for an as yet abstract brand, but was also able to communicate to tourists what to expect. The long-haul tourists from Europe or America, with a very vague idea about the country, now know that Malaysia should be their destination if they want to experience Asia. This tagline, along with the creative and often visually brilliant ads, helped the country make a quantum leap in the last decade, both in terms of number of tourists and the tourism revenue.

Though Malaysia- Truly Asia claim is justified at multiple levels, what with a multi-ethnic population, and a nice mixture of different cultures and practices, the question that arises in one’s mind is whether Malaysia is the only such country. To put it more clearly, there are countries like India which are a better representation of Asia than Malaysia. There indeed is a feeling in the minds of many Indians that Malaysia was lucky to have got a first movers claim on Asia, and now India has to settle for a tagline, which though famous, still doesn’t position it the way Malaysia’s does. The Incredible India campaign has been a great success, and has led to phenomenal increase in tourist numbers and also won us quite a few awards. But still, considering the size of the country, the number of tourists visiting India is far less than what should be the case. This is where the effectiveness of Malaysia’s campaign is evident. Sample this, in 2009 the foreign tourist arrival number for India was 5.04 million, while the same for Malaysia was 23.6 million, this despite India being nearly 10 times bigger than Malaysia, and having a greater diversity on offer.

Malaysia’s numbers show us not only how much we lag behind, but also the huge potential for future growth. Tourism, in the near future, has the capacity of being one of the biggest contributors to the economy, and by its inherent nature, is also capable of producing large number of jobs. But the challenge for India remains that it has to compete with its neighbours for tourist traffic. Though the Indian campaign is good, it’s not good enough to poach tourists from its neighbours. The European and American travellers, who are the most valued in terms of their expenditure, have only a very vague idea about the difference between the various Asian tourist destinations. When they decide to come to Asia, their decisions are mainly made based on the attractiveness of each country’s campaign and what it promises to offer. Though India’s campaign is as good as Malaysia’s when it comes to attractiveness of communication, the brand promise of Malaysia is such that it ends up getting the tourists. When a European traveller is promised of a package which lets him experience the whole of Asia by visiting a single country, he is more than ready to take that call over any other. And as he has little idea what the rest of Asia is like, he also returns back quite content and satisfied.

The challenge now is to come up with a positioning for India, which in addition to proclaiming its Incredibleness, also conveys a value proposition to the foreign tourist, which makes him choose India over any other country in the consideration set. India obviously can’t play the Asia card now. Malaysia owns it, and any attempts at it may look like we are imitating. So what can we offer, which can trump the Asian experience, and would be a proposition which would be hard to beat?

Well a world tour would always be a superior experience than an Asian one. So how about equating the Indian tourism experience to that of a world tour? Ambitious it is, but then it’s something which, with some effort, can be pulled off. Already, the Incredible India campaign is marketing the country based on its widespread diversity. If the country can be positioned as a microcosm of the world at large, somewhere you go to see the world in a nutshell, it would add to its appeal greatly and help pull in tourists from other countries.

Sample some of these ads. They are intended to be just illustrative, and the potential for creative ads in this campaign is far greater. The intention behind them is to equate locations in India with some of the most popular tourist destinations world over, and to convey the idea that –“You get here, whatever you go anywhere else to experience”.

There are obvious benefits to this campaign, over the current one.

i)                    It would create a clear positioning for the country in the foreign tourist’s mind. Instead of coming in for just an “Incredible” experience, they have a much clearer idea of what to expect. This helps them make up their mind faster.

ii)                   This helps us in differentiating ourselves from our neighbours. Instead of offering yet another Asian experience, we would be promising them an experience which can rival the thrill of a world tour.

iii)                 This would help in making the tourists visit more places within the country once they are here. The current campaigns highlight many aspects of India, but then they straddle so many different types of locations, that at the end of the day the tourist is confused as to which spots to visit and which to skip. Though the campaigns do have a coherent theme, it’s something like Indian culture, or spiritual tourism, and this doesn’t help the tourist come up with a solid itinerary or have spots in mind which are ‘must visit’. Thus they end up going to the well known spots like Taj Mahal or Rajasthan, and the other places in the country don’t get that much of traffic. What a “World Tour” campaign can do is bundle together various locations in the country to represent various stops in a world tour. This would give the visitor a solid itinerary to follow, and also help sell a diverse set of locations in the country. Also such stops can be taken up for development by the tourism department on a priority basis, so that the quality of experience is top class throughout.

iv)                 Internally, such a campaign would lead to greater degrees of cooperation among the various state tourism departments, and help them view each other as comrades rather than competitors. This would also give them a feel of being a part of a larger picture.

But more than anything else the campaign would provide our people with the pride of being part of such a wonderful country. With increasing interest in travel, and greater disposable income, this campaign could encourage Indians to explore India first, before venturing out. Domestic tourism is a market which has greater untapped potential than even foreign tourism, with bulk of the existing tourism being religious in nature. With the kind of volumes domestic tourism can generate, along with the higher cash spends that foreign tourists can provide, a campaign like this can emerge as a major game changer.

But beyond just the execution and the accrued benefits, this campaign must also be looked at in a broader perspective. A campaign of this sort is going to not only help us overcome the local competition, like Thailand and Malaysia (which was the primary objective), but by its nature of comparison, would also would pit us against some of the best tourist locations in the world. This requires us to reset out benchmarks, and also redefine our quality standards. By comparing with the best in the world, we would need to spruce up our infrastructure and our service dynamics to match, or even excel, what’s being offered everywhere else in the world. Some may look at this as a major barrier, while some may see it as a challenge which has the potential to make us put in that extra bit of effort. Whichever way it is seen, one thing is pretty clear – if we are aiming for the skies, then it’s time we start growing wings.

p.s. This article was originally written by me for The Marketers, the official Marketing blog of IIM Calcutta. The link to the original article can be found below.

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