With tourism being in doldrums due to the pandemic since March 2020, National Tourist Offices (NTOs) of countries around the world have focused on domestic tourism due to the closure of the scheduled air services globally. These NTOs have realized to change their tourism strategy to make it more suitable to counter the impact of the pandemic. Their plan included offering offbeat destinations following the global norms of physical distancing, new marketing strategy built around digital and a robust safety guideline.
India also adopted the same strategy. The Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India initiated the promotion of offbeat and lesser-known destination under its webinar series ‘Dekho Apna Desh’. These webinars created a great interest about India’s unexplored and experiential destination amongst the travelling people across the globe.
Indian State Tourism Boards kept the momentum going by strongly backing the MoT’s vision of promoting domestic tourism. Several State Tourism departments implemented new measures and promotional campaigns to revive the tourism economy. These departments are leaving no stone unturned to encourage travellers to visit the lesser-known destinations in the country. They are creating new offbeat destinations to avoid crowding at the established destinations in order to follow the physical distancing norms.
Also, outbound travel is totally taken a backseat due to the pandemic. Hence, it offers a huge opportunity for state tourism boards to refocus and reposition their products to both high and upper middle-class travellers and retain them in the domestic market. Keeping this in focus, states have adopted new, targeted and digital marketing strategy to send a strong message to the travelling people that travelling to lesser-known destinations are relatively safe.
Developing offbeat destinations
Many states have reoriented their strategy to instill confidence among tourists. “We are developing new destinations, festivals, occasions and coming up with new ideas for drawing tourists to the state. We are developing a new destination Nada Bet in Banaskantha district on the border of India and Pakistan. This is being developed as part of ‘Seema Darshan’ project. The project offers an opportunity for travellers to see the workings of an army post on the border of India,” Hareet Shukla, Secretary - Tourism, Devasthanam Management, Civil Aviation & Pilgrimage, Govt. of Gujarat said at the recently concluded IATO convention in Gandhinagar. He elaborated that some of the activities and sights that will interest the traveller include the retreat ceremony where the Border Security Force (BSF) jawans put up a gallant show of marching with pride to end another day of guarding the borders.
Apart from Nada Bet, Gujarat is also developing more new destinations including archaeological sites of Lothal and Dholavira. The state is also promoting Blue Flag Status Shivrajpur beach. Dholavira is recently included in the list of UNESCO sites. “We are developing a National Maritime Heritage Museum at Lothal and the Master Plan for Dholavira is also ready,” Shukla informed. The complex will be spread over 400 acres and will include Maritime Heritage Museum, light house museum, heritage theme park, maritime institute etc..
Similarly, the government is also developing Dholavira, the Harappan-era archeological site in Kutch district of Gujarat. As per the Master Plan, there will be accommodation facility, cafeteria, tourist lounge/reception center and parking.
Implementing the similar strategy, Madhya Pradesh, which has always been focused on domestic market, has also changed their preference from mass tourism to the less crowded place.
“We are mainly focusing on promoting experiential tourism on our circuits post covid. We are developing new and unexplored destinations which have not been the focus earlier. We are promoting rural tourism around Orchha which has emerged an important pre-wedding film shoot destination. Beside this, we are also looking at promoting Vedaghat in Jabalpur. We are organizing Mandu Festival and offering a lot of activities like heritage walk, cycle tour, cultural evening, local cuisine etc to visitors. We want tourists coming to Mandu to explore Maheshwar,” Shilpa Gupta, Addl. Managing Director, Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board, said on the sideline of the IATO convention. She informed that MP Tourism is working on three pillars of tourism: innovation, safety and sustainability.
India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, has also brought tourism under the focus sector. UP Tourism is currently working on developing new circuits offering offbeat destinations to tourists. The state tourism board is developing many new destinations in and around Varanasi and Ayodhya.
“With the coming up of the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor, Purvanchal will have a new identity in terms of tourism offerings. The temple was there but with the making of the corridor, tourists will have better experience. Now, 1.5 lakh tourists can visit the temple at one point of time,” Preeti Srivastava, Deputy Director, Uttar Pradesh Tourism, told. She said that the government is also developing Vindhyachal Corridor on similar lines. While the focus is on the religious tourism, the development of both these Corridors will also have spill over impact on the surrounding areas. There are a lot of beautiful, experiential, historical and cultural destinations that Purvanchal region offers, Srivastava said. “People who come to Varanasi can also go to Vindhyachal. We are developing corridor at Vindhyachal as well which offers the similar experiences.
“Buddhist travellers visiting Buddhist sites in UP can include these Corridors in their itinerary. We are developing Sonbhadra region that offers the best pre-historic sites and a great experience of eco-tourism. The infrastructure is still weak in Sonbhadra region but with Varanasi getting popular, we expect the infrastructure in this region will be developed soon, she opined.
To develop these lesser-known destinations, there is a need of offering tourism related infrastructure in these destinations. “We offer very good road connectivity to our tourist destinations. We have increased the number of way Side Amenities (WSA) from 80 to 96 to offer convenience to road travellers,” Gupta said citing example of Hanuwantia which the MP Tourism has developed through Jal Mahotsava. Hanuwantia is gradually establishing itself as a water-based activity driven destination in the market.
MP Tourism, which offers a very lucrative heritage policy and a robust land bank, has expedited their activities to draw private investment. “We recently received 5 bids against heritage properties for their conversion into heritage hotels,” Gupta informed and added that the state’s investment policy is very friendly. “Our base price is fixed. It is Rs 5 lakhs for rural areas and Rs 10 lakhs for urban areas. The base price for our heritage properties is just Rs 1 lakh. We are looking for right bidders,” she added.
Srivastava also enumerates a number of infrastructural initiatives taken by the state government. The recently opened Kushinagar Internarial Airport is proving boon to the tourism in the region. The government is creating a strong infrastructure network in the state, she said. Also, the Vindhyachal Corridor project being built with an investment of Rs 150 crore will boost tourism in the region.
Gujarat Tourism has also announced a number of policies since the pandemic to develop destinations. Beside our tourism policy, we recently announced heritage tourism policy and we will be coming up with a cinematic tourism policy soon. We also have guidelines for homestays and adventure sports, Shukla said.
Gujarat is well connected by air, rail and roads. “We have 19 airports of which 3 airports are managed by the state governments where we are looking for partnership with private players to develop projects in and around these airports also. We have two water aerodromes. Gujarat is the first state to start sea planes. Currently, these sea planes are not operating. We hope to start this service in the next 2-3 months. We have 42 forts, jetties and good motorable roads. The growth of tourism in Gujarat is more than national average. The number of footfalls in Gujarat is more than 6 crores which is roughly more than state’s population,” Shukla said.
Karnataka also came up with new Tourism Policy in 2020. Karnataka accorded industry status to 4–5-star hotels category.
As per the demand of the situation, governments and private players join hands to save the industry. The business had taken a lull and they used this pandemic time to forge a stronger relationship. All associations under the umbrella of FAITH worked cohesively with the Ministry of Tourism and State Tourism Boards tried to garner as much support as they can receive. The industry managed to get some sort of support from the government. While the Govt. of India granted 5 lakh free visa with some rider and financial assistance to government recognized operators, agents and guides, state also tried their best to work hand-in-hand with private players.
Gupta said that tour operators are their biggest stakeholders and MP Tourism is working closely with associations, operators, agents and guides. “We are in constant engagement with our stakeholder, getting their feedbacks and working on these,” she added.
Shukla was quite bullish about Gujarat hosting the IATO Annual Convention. This Convention is going to give a great fillip to the tourism in the state. “Such large-scale convention will give Gujarat Tourism a lot of ideas and feedback to further proceed. I am sure the travel trade including the agents and the operators will discover new locations in Gujarat and bring a lot of national and international tourists to the state,” Shukla said.
“We extended financial assistance to tourism stakeholders. We extended 50 per cent reduction in property tax and the waiver of fixed charges on electricity bills for April to June and 50 per cent exemption in the excise license fee. "We have a one-time grant of Rs 5,000 for tourist guides,” the representative of Karnataka Tourism, said.
These Boards are also helping to create suitable packages. "We need to make our packages activity-filled. All our events, Jal Mahotsava, Mandu Festivals offers many activities,” Gupta said.
With almost total absence of physical meetings, tourism department are trying to go digital for their marketing and promotions to keep in touch with the industry. Vigorous digital marketing platforms is the key to success for tourism destinations as it is the most cost-effective investment. Tourism industry is one of the sectors that have benefited the most from the internet and as a result social media has become an integral part of any central or state tourism promotion and planning.
The Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India is ready with its campaign to be launched digitally. The Ministry, after having concluded the discussion with channels, was ready for digital soft launch from January 2022 but had to delay due to the ongoing situation. The Ministry has already started digitalization of tourism industry and developed multi-layer strategy to build brand India. The focus is also on the user generated content to market India as a destination in the global market.
State Tourism Boards are also not behind and many of them are in the process of creating new digital campaigns. UP has a tourism budget of around Rs 1200 crore of which around 10 per cent is allocated for marketing and promotions. “We are focused on digital campaign. We are coming up with good campaigns post-election. The UP Tourism is making nice films that will be promoted on digital channels from April,” Srivastava informed.
Gujarat has already been famous for coining out with brilliant tourism campaigns that resulted in pushing the tourism growth. The state tourism board has already launched digital campaigns and solidifying its position on digital media. “We have been very active in utilising the social media for the promotion of the Gujarat Tourism,” Shukla said.
Madhya Pradesh Tourism, which has always released creative and eye-catching campaigns, is also focused on digital campaigns now. MP Tourism launched its digital campaign titled #SabKuchJJoDilChahe. The campaign showcases MP as a traveller’s delight. The state also launched ‘IntezaarKhatamHua’ campaign in 2020 to build the confidence and trust amongst the travellers and to keep the audience engaged during the Monsoon season by featuring the major monsoon tourism attractions of the destinations like Amarkantak, Panchmarhi, Mandu, Orchha, Tamia, Bhedaghat, National Parks. “We are moving towards digitalization by innovating and reinventing ourselves," Gupta added.