The Pioneer group is expanding its umbrella of connecting with thinking minds through live talks. Called The Pioneer Agenda series, we hope to generate awareness on ideas that will shape India in 2030 and could be a template for policy-making. The first such dialogue, Exotica Tourism Summit, Exotica being the group’s travel and wellness magazine, was held at Shangri-La hotel, New Delhi on February 26. Since tourism is poised to become a major growth driver and employment generator of the economy, the day-long event had interactive sessions with Union Ministers, industry experts, travel operators, tourism boards, the hospitality sector and brand creators
How to rebrand an old concept and link it to the discovery of new destinations, given the Government’s intent to develop 17 iconic tourist destinations? How to get domestic travellers to look for exotica within, given the Prime Minister’s call to travel to at least 15 destinations at home? How to develop a hub and spoke model where the hinterland of known tourist spots can be developed as a linked experience? These were some of the questions that were answered by panellists Ashwani Lohani, Ritu Beri, Pronab Sarkar and Anil Chadha at the inaugural session of the Exotica Tourism Summit. Moderated by Dr Chandan Mitra, it explored the possibilities of a deep-pore look within.
Unveiling another of his films in the Virtual Bharat series, filmmaker Bharat Bala said that the familiar corners of India evoked different emotions when looked at through the eyes of its people. His film on the shabad singers of Amritsar was an interesting perspective of the holy town. Highlighting the need for “felt emotion” to convey a refreshing idea of Incredible India, he said, “It’s very critical to showcase what we are doing and how we can build a new idea for tourism in this country. A place is not a destination, it’s an emotion, a story and a culture. You tell a story, you will find the traveller. When domestic or international tourists travel and hear a story, they become a part of that destination. Almost 20 years ago, I started Incredible India, all thanks to Amitabh Kant. It’s time to discover the new avatar of Incredible India. It has done a wonderful job of showcasing the diversity of this country but today’s marketing and advertising needs are different. We need to move on from typical advertising and find new ways to reach the audience. We talk about 5,000 years of heritage, at least we can make 1,000 stories out of them. I have travelled 150 km by road, discovering India. And what I discover, I put into films. In September, we started the new initiative called Virtual Bharat. It is going to be a repository of virtual stories of India. To start with, we decided to do 1,000 stories of the country. Deeper stories will connect deeper with the audience and they will have something to take home as emotion. When we talk about culture, it is something you need to win over as an emotion. When people look at India, they see the Taj Mahal because they find it as an embodiment of a great love story. We are a 5,000 year old country, we don’t need to hide only behind Taj Mahal. There’s a lot more to showcase.”
Ashwani Lohani, Ex CMD, Air India, felt that there is always scope for exploration and rebranding India. “Nobody can ever beat the impact of tourism in the country. It is the biggest job creator and also sways the image of the country. A few years back, whenever somebody used to talk about tourism of India, it was always about international market and footfalls. Yet the numbers were not encouraging. The fact is you cannot make tourism a growth driver till you cater to a domestic market. When I got a chance to head Madhya Pradesh tourism, I decided to generate new interest in its diversity.”
Lohani shared that people have a fair idea about the places abroad but they are not aware about the rich culture they have at home. He said, “We need to start exploring our own country. Indian tourism has something on offer for everyone in every category with all budgets — India on shoestring, India in luxury, the royal India, urban India, the common man’s India, historical India and much more. Why not circulate the funds in our own country for the good of our own people? There is a need to catalyse a movement of people within the states. Tourism is a sector which has a massive potential to grow. And I feel we are moving towards that.”
Luxury entrepreneur and fashion designer Ritu Beri believes in the idea of India. She understands the value of being Indian. She tries to promote the country in everything that she does. “My first fashion show in Paris was based on Indian heritage. From culture, designs, motifs to fabrics and embroidery, everything was Indian. I presented the collection in Hindi, it had French translations and the music was Indian too. People absolutely loved it. The country is very well accepted abroad,” Ritu said.
“If I go anywhere in the world wearing Pashmina, people go crazy. Khadi, I feel, is true luxury because it’s handmade and today, more and more people are forgetting the art of handcrafted things. That is why it’s our strength and we need to promote it. So when we talk about tourism of India, it’s the whole concept of being Indian. I have a 12-year-old daughter. I am always telling her that India used to be the richest country in the world in recorded history. Our country is very proud of many inventions. From zero, yoga, geometry, snakes and ladders to chess, it all comes from India. So why are we not proud of being Indian or taking a holiday here? Why are we always aping the West. Why are we apologetic of what we stand for. From the Taj Mahal to Rabindra Nath Tagore to Mahatma Gandhi, we have a prolific history,” she added.
Ritu said that we are all empowered today to present an India that is richly felt and authentic. An India that we don’t even think can exist. “Platforms like these are very important for first, us Indians, to accept the fact that we are above the rest of the world. And then to spread the message abroad. I know we can do it together,” said she.
Anil Chadha, COO, ITC Hotels, said that in colleges they always teach you a few lines — if it is to be, it is up to me. Somebody has rightly said that the three biggest drivers in this century are going to be tele communications, information technology and tourism. “India has had a good story so far. Our growth rates have been better than the world. A lot has been done by the government. However, there is still a lot to be done because the numbers coming in are much less in comparison to the numbers going out. One big thing that we all have been speaking about is domestic tourism. I feel, we should take pride in our own country. Domestic tourism is something that has the capability to catch the eyeballs of the world market. That’s probably the way to move the international tourism forward,” said Chadha.
He felt that if we compared ourselves to certain benchmarks available with reference to footfalls, India was at one per cent, China was at three per cent for their domestic tourism and the US was at six per cent. “That is exactly where we probably need to reach. And it has to be a collaborative effort. It has to be a great partnership between the Centre and the states, private players and the government. Everybody has to put their best foot forward,” he says.
As a hotel chain, for example, Chadha said that they had the honour of hosting the US President, Donald Trump. The hotel was full of Americans. They got to see motifs of India that the hotel sports in its decor. “They saw all the artworks and wanted to know what went into their creation. So there’s a lot of storytelling that needs to be done. The travellers are looking for experiences more than anything. And we need to create that for them. They want to really get enriched at the destination they travel, in the hotel they live, in the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the mode of transport they use, it’s all getting experiential day by day,” said Chadha.
The president of Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), Pronab Sarkar, has been in this industry for last 45 years. He felt that the government plays a bigger role in the promotion of tourism because they are the ones framing guidelines and all the taxes. “We also have to include the state government. It is not possible without their help. India is blessed with domestic tourism with more than 180 million tourists. We get only 10 million foreign tourists in comparison, which is very low. As far as the world scenario is concerned, it is less than 0.5 per cent. We don’t even get one per cent of international tourism. Therefore, there is a huge scope,” he said.
Though some of our neighbours are smaller and have a finite infrastructure, they have had higher international footfalls. “It is very important to state that we are losing out to our neighbours because of the highest taxes. I feel, tourism is not a luxury. It is an economic activity, which is very important. Domestically, we have to be very well connected. Our people must have easy access to reach where they desire. Everybody has to come together and make it happen,” said Sarkar.
Friday, 28 February 2020 | Pioneer
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