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Detailing, differentiation and compelling story are key to market niche tourism

Niche tourism is cherished for its authentic and exclusive experiences. However, one of the key challenges for players operating in the segment is to market their products right. And though there is a consensus that there is no one way to market niche tourism, detailing and differentiation of products are very important. Besides one must also have a compelling story to tell.

A panel discussion on ' Niche Tourism: Harnessing the potential of local experiences' was held in SATTE 2018 in New Delhi. Moderated by Shoba Mohan, Partner, RARE India, the panellist included Baby Mathew, Founder Managing Director, Somatheeram Ayurveda Group; Steve Borgia, Chairman & Managing Director, Indeco Leisure Hotel; Sangram Gaikwad, Indian Revenue Services (IRS) Officer, government of India; Sriram Vaidya, Head of Experiences South East Asia and India, Airbnb and Rajeev Nangia, COO, TRAC Representations.

Well established in their respective niche, the panellists brought to the discussion some riveting success stories of carving their own niches and what it takes to market niche products. Initiating the discussion, Shoba Mohan, Partner, RARE India said that she is not very fond of the term called niche tourism, which narrows down the scope of the whole subject. Before the term niche tourism came into use, the concept was called special interest tourism.

Baby Mathew, Founder MD, Somatheeram Ayurveda Group and one of the leading players in Ayurveda & Wellness in Kerala, started the concept of Ayurveda tourism 30 years ago in order to offer niche Ayurveda experience. Recounting the early days of his Ayurveda venture Mathew said, "That time there was no such Ayurveda resort in the world. A normal Ayurveda hospital those days used to be just a small concrete building without many facilities. We started a resort like Ayurveda hospital where we maintained nature. No concrete building was built there. We just put small huts and provided facilities of high-end standard in rooms and bathrooms."  Mathew said that his concept was to make an Ayurveda hospital that gives a new impression of Ayurveda. "Those days Ayurveda was very famous in Kerala but it was not well known in other countries. We wanted to promote Ayurveda in other countries as well. So it became a successful wellness tourism product.”

 

Steve Borgia, CMD, Indeco Leisure Hotel, narrated his own success story. He said that he wanted to promote India in its unique and original form. Shoba Mohan described him as one of the foremost people who converted a small and beautiful home at Swamimalai in Kumbakonam, Tamilnadu, into a big hotel.

Speaking about homestay segment, Sangram Gaikwad, IRS Officer, who is conducting a government-sponsored study on homestay facilities, said that at present, homestay segment is quite unstructured and unorganised, therefore the government is preparing guidelines for standardization and accreditation of homestay facilities. Gaikwad informed that guidelines will have four categories of homestays. "We have seen that homestays have a lot of potential in remote areas where no other accommodation options are available, in the ecologically sensitive and fragile areas where there are restrictions for other players. Homestay owners are small players not having required capacity. There is a lot of requirement of investment of energy in capacity building for homestay players who are in rural areas and remote areas,” said Gaikwad. He added that genuine homestays are those where host is staying with guests and are located in remote areas. “There is immense scope for capacity building, and opportunities for start-ups, who can avail support from flagship schemes of government of India such as skill India, Start-up India and Mudra scheme,” said Gaikwad, adding that these players can come to help homestay owners upgrade their facilities to make them market ready and online players like Airbnb will come in picture only if these facilities become market ready.

Sriram Vaidya, Head of Experiences South East Asia and India, Airbnb said that his organization wants people to feel like they can go and belong to anywhere. “It is very simple but at the same time very powerful concept. We want people to feel that they can visit any city and stay there like locals. They can stay in someone's home and experience something new,” said Vaidya. He informed that over a million Indians have already used Airbnb products to travel all over the world. They have experienced genuine and great experience while traveling outside India and staying with Airbnb.

One of the key challenges before niche tourism players is to market their products. Shoba Mohan said that her company RARE India represents some unique boutique hotels, lodges and homestay facilities across India, Nepal and Bhutan. She said that marketing such niche tourism products is the most difficult things to do. When it comes to marketing niche tourism, detailing is everything, said Baby Mathew. He added, "When I started, marketing Ayurveda was the most difficult thing. Even today Ayurveda has not been approved in many other countries. So imagine the situation of 30 years ago. Mathew initially used his link in Germany to market his product. He invited journalists, writers and TV channels to promote his Ayurveda Centre located in Kerala.

Talking about his marketing experience, Borgia said that he had a passion and that he wanted to do something different. "I wanted to do something but I had no prior knowledge or experience. I think if you don't know anything, you do it your own way,” he said.  “The first thing to do is that you need to be unique.” Borgia said that when he came to know that then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was to visit South India, he invited him to stay in his resort. “Gandhi came along with his 60-70 friends from Europe, which gave us huge exposure. He told that he also invited a few leading travel agents of that time including Ram Kohli of Creative Travel and Inder Sharma of Sita World Travel. “They were competitors, but they visited us together. They taught us how to sell the hotel. Since then I never looked back,” said Borgia. “I think there is no formal way to market niche tourism. You need a story to tell, your need to be connected to history. Marketing is all about how unique you are, how you can be a part of your product and how you can relate to history.

Throwing light on the role of cinema in marketing a destination, Rajeev Nangia, COO, TRAC Representations, said that a film can turn around a destination for sure but it is very important to get the script right. “You can always find a financer for your movie but if you don’t get a right script for your destination, you will not be able to promote your destination with movie. He cited Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara movie filmed in Spain and how successfully it turned around the destination. La Tomatina Festival became a benchmark attraction for Indians who started visiting Spain to experience throwing tomatoes at each other,” said Nagia, adding that there are many other stories offilms turning around destinations. Many destinations have experienced filming in their destinations and got very healthy results, but getting the right script and right people to shoot a film at a destination is very important when your aim is to promote the destination.          

As for marketing homestay facilities, Gaikwad said that most of the genuine homestay owners are small players who don’t have resources for marketing and branding. “There should be some companies who can help them market and brand their homestay facilities. Besides online aggregator, there is need to have some players like homestay management companies which can help owners in marketing and capacity building,” said Gaikwad.

 

Vaidya of Airbnb remarked that for his organisation marketing is just another tool to serve it broader purpose. Through its trip and experience business Airbnb is creating marketplace for nice tourism entrepreneurs, he informed.

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