How frequent flyer Modi should sell Incredible India abroad
You may get a shocker travelling in many countries to know that not much is known about our country.
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The frequent outbound journey of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is no one-way traffic. This is evident from the fact that "Incredible India" has hitherto made a perceptible mark overseas, with more queries being put regarding this in the past one year.
As Modi takes "Incredible India" to more than a dozen foreign countries in as many months in his own style, the returns are encouraging with footfalls from many countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, the UAE and China showing significant rise in the current fiscal year.
There is a business opportunity waiting to be tapped even before the business agreements pledging billions of dollars start showing up in Indian coffers. In fact, foreign arrivals from Australia, where Modi struck a very personal chord with his then counterpart, Tony Abbott, have been consistently rising. Even from the UAE, which recently saw the visit of the first Indian prime minister in well over three decades, is showing positive traffic return. Queries made to Indian tour operators from countries as diverse as South Korea and Japan to Germany and Fiji are equally heartening.
Perhaps, realising a big business opportunity from the prime minister's foreign trips, the ministry of tourism is all out with an overseas publicity blitz to cash in on Modi's foreign trips to boost overseas arrivals. The urgency is justified as the target to double the foreign arrivals is long overdue. India still accounts for just 0.60 per cent of the total global foreign travel market. Also, what makes the task all the more significant is the fact that a nation's tourism builds the first image for investments, something India desperately needs.
The ministry has realised that the Rs 175-crore fund earmarked for foreign publicity, of which Rs 75 crore is only for TV publicity, has so far not been utilised, hence the target of doubling the foreign arrivals since the tenure of Subodh Kant Sahay in the UPA government remained a mere lip service.
Queries about India, notwithstanding cautious check about security, health and sanitation, are encouraging signals. Electronic visa facility which was about 20,000 to 25,000 earlier has touched two lakh now, almost ten-fold increase which is one compelling reason to look overseas. Tourism minister Mahesh Sharma thinks that a foreigner who has arrived in New Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai will not benefit from the Incredible India publicity billboards and advertising in India.
Rather, one should invite and excite many foreigners in their homeland to book for India in their holiday plans. Sharma and his new team of officers at the top were busy last Friday brainstorming as what to showcase best in advertisements for overseas travellers. It has been decided to go full-throttle through the 14 foreign tourist offices to maximise India's tourism potential in international markets with visual publicity and road shows.
Don't be surprised soon to see more Indian tourism advertisements appearing in foreign media and overseas than in India. As a top official puts it, "Foreign markets publicity needs innovation and punch to make the most from unexplored markets."
Now comes the question: What to showcase best in these advertisements? Will it be security, sanitation or hospitable India?
In fact, Incredible India's overseas publicity should not fall into any "tag traps" of security and sanitation. Safety is an issue after dusk in South Africa, and foreigners are advised not to enter many dark alleys next to King's Cross in London, so are the muggings in New York a concern. But that doesn't deter tourists from repeatedly going to these hotspots. India in Asia is what it is and it can't - and shouldn't - be a cheap imitation of the United States or Europe in sanitary standards. India's strength lies in its diverse cultures, rich culinary traditions, mesmerising landscapes (where else can you get high Himalayas, deep seas, tropical forests and lush-green plains in one country?) and layers of history where past lives side-by-side with present in cramped pigeonholed settlements of many "Walled Cities" across the country. That is the charm of India and had that not been the case, foreigners would not have come calling to Delhi's Chandni Chowk for shopping and, of course, Karim's curries.
It's time to sell India right. Indian advertisement overseas must look for what is best-known outside. It's a myth that foreigners know India just the way we Indians know their countries. You may get a shocker travelling in many countries to know that not much is known about India.
I have realised during my foreign travels that India is best known by four things - Buddha, Gandhi, Bollywood and food. These are our inherent ambassadors overseas. Time has come to expand their USP to bigger markets and turn the publicity regional interest-specific. While spirituality still encompasses a big share among foreigners, it is looking beyond Varanasi, Krishna and Gita. Time has come to promote aggressively yoga in the Himalaya package for young travellers.
Similarly, our publicity has been missing the diverse development canvas many big cities possess, be it luxurious multi-star hotels, exotic golf courses, mall cultures, metro connectivity and not to miss, improved connectivity. Have advertisements tailor-made for different sections - traditional backpackers, leisure and high-end business, NRIs and medical tourists. Sell Indian cuisine, Bollywood and maybe the "clean and virgin" Northeast region.
India, fortunately, has something to offer for everyone. Only India must sell itself incredibly well this time.