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Indian technology catches Harvard eye

Destination INDIA

Author: Smitha Venkateswaran and Joe Scaria
Publication: The Economic Times
Date: December 29, 2010

Introduction: Indian states are increasingly trying to woo cash-rich desis seen globe trotting so frequently with their large families

Gurpreet Singh is in a dilemma… It's the yearly holiday time, and he is yet to make up his mind. Should he go abroad to 'attractively priced' beach holiday at Thailand or choose to enjoy the tranquil backwaters of Kerala? After all Kerala gives both the beach and lush green hills…Welcome to the new genre of domestic travellers, who are spoilt of choices to holiday in India. After facing a lull in foreign arrivals post the global slowdown, Indian states are increasingly trying to woo cash rich desis seen globe trotting so frequently with their large families. "The economic meltdown was a sudden shock as our hotels went empty but we saw Indians travelling abroad on holidays. It has clearly changed way all tour operators look at Indian visitors," said Subhash Verma, vice-president, Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India (ADTOI).

The Mumbai terrorist attacks, on top of a global economic recession, have come as a double whammy for India's tourism and hospitality industry with room occupancies dropped by over thirty percent. Luxury hotels in tourist hotspots like Agra and Goa were the worst affected were only 20-odd rooms of the 90 rooms were filled up. At the same time number of outbound Indians jumped by a million to 4cross the 10- million mark for the first time ever.

While sightseeing tops the list for nearly two-thirds (64%) as the main reason for Indians travelling abroad, it was followed by exploring a new country for close to one half (47%). The impact of the recession in India was relatively small with a year-on-year drop of just 3% in 2009, says PhoCus Wright market search report.

So to keep their itinerary filled, many 'tourist savvy' state corporations are signing memorandum of understating (MoUs) amongst themselves. Goa, for example, has already signed such MoUs with Karnataka, Gujarat and Rajasthan wherein 'both parties will seek to tap tourism potential by developing tourism packages, services, market products'. Similar requests have also been sent to Kerala, the north-eastern states, Andamans and Pondicherry.

"By promoting each other's destination, we are giving our customers variety and value for money. It also ensures that each state has more travellers coming in every year. As the commercial wing of the state tourist department, it is our job to keep increasing the numbers," said Nikhil Desai managing director GTDC. Simply put, these states in a joint effort want to tap potential tourism markets in India that refuses to be rattled by global economic scenario.

For starters, all state departments have decided to promote the others' destination; customise inter-state holiday package. There will be fairs, road shows, public display of art and craft, pictures of locales besides promoting others regional festivals in a bid to attract locals for a quick weekend break. So, if you are in the deserts of Rajasthan you will be shown brochures, pictures and pamphlets of the pristine beaches of Goa and the exotic hills of Kullu-Manali for the next break. Reservations can be made online.

Tourism boards of Goa/Karnataka and Maharashtra are planning a joint circuit. The circuit will be part of the currently running Golden Chariot luxury train that runs from Goa to the ancestral city of Hampi in Karnataka. "We can complement each other. While Goa has the beaches and party, Karnataka offers rich culture, forests and history," said Karnataka's principal Secretary (Tourism) K Jyothiramalingam.

Talks are on to have similar MoUs with Kerala for a 'southern splendour'. So, a 7/14-day trip blends religious tour with leisure to cover temples at Bangalore, Chennai, Mammalapuram, Madurai, Tanjavur, Kanyakumari before heading to the scenic beauty of Pondichery, Trivandrum, Kovalam, Alleppy and Kochi in Kerala. Here, Goa can be the get away as the final leg of holidaying, "we are focusing on families where the elders like to visit religious places while the youngsters want to have some fun", adds Jyothiramalingam. To bring in more 'high spending' Indian families to Goa, GTDC wants to revamp Goa's image from a leisure destination to also a centre for ecotourism, adventure tourism and hinterland tourism. For this, state is already in talks with reputed consultants for developing projects under PPP model.

Meanwhile, God's own country, Kerala, too has been wooing tier-2 and tier-3 cities in the country in a bid to enhance its domestic tourism business. This year, the state's tourism marketing bandwagon has toured cities like Vijayawada, Bhopal Lucknow and Bhubaneswar. "We thought these cities held good potential for domestic tourism, and trade bodies had also advised us to tap these cities", says Kerala Tourism deputy director for marketing, Suresh Kumar.

Meanwhile, exotic Rajasthan has for the first time organised road shows in 19 Indian states like Goa, Kerala, Pune, Bangalore and Mumbai. The three-day blend of state's wonder locales, art, music and dance also gives people a chance to sample some authentic Rajasthani cuisine, "We are basically informing people what Rajasthan has to offer. With a desert and also rivers and waterfalls, Rajasthan is a year-round destination, which many do not know," said Ajit Singh, assistant director, department of Tourism, government of Rajasthan. The desert state was the worst victim of the recession. Foreign arrivals dropped to half post the economic meltdown in 2009, admits Singh. Now the state wants to develop a regular flow of Indian travellers to off-load the deficits that come with a drop in foreign arrivals. And response has been encouraging, the desert state is witnessing a marked increase in queries from Indians, he adds.

India has an unparalleled wealth of heritage sites, festivals and beaches. But by global standards it still spends relatively little promoting and developing them. The country invests 0.9% of its budget in tourism. By contrast, Malaysia spends 5.1% and Singapore 9.1%. As India's middle classes become more wealthy, they are travelling more, some have already developed a taste for foreign travel. "There is a change in attitude of the expanding middle class. People want to explore new places but they also want value for money," points out hospitality analyst Ram Badrinathan, GM, Asia-Pacific region, PhoCus Wright.

They are the government's next big challenge. Not only does it need to persuade Indians to choose within the country, but must also convince its own tourists that the best place for a holiday is the country they live in.

- smitha.venkateswaran@timesgroup.com

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