Festivals Lead to Rural Tourism
Naturally, the IGTO is working with tour operators to encourage them to develop more tour products beyond the “golden triangle” of Delhi, Agra, Jaipur; and the Kerala tourist routes to the south. One way they are doing this is with festivals. In fact, India has often been called “The Land of Festivals,” celebrating more than 500 festivals a year.
One in particular, the Kumbh Mela or Pitcher Festival, is held four times every 12 years and rotates among four locations: Haridwar along the Ganges River (in Uttarakhand, mentioned above); Allahabad (Prayag) at the confluence of the Ganges; Yamuna and mythical Saraswati river; Ujjain along the Kshipra River; and Nashik along the Godavari River. Thus, a Kumbh Mela is basically held every three years across the four locations.
The Kumbh Mela is a four-month-long celebration that is actually taking place this year in Haridwar, where it commenced on January 14th. As an example of the festival’s draw for pilgrims and tourists, more than 50 million people from India and abroad are expected to visit the holy city to bathe in the Ganges and cleanse themselves of their sins, speeding their way to nirvana or enlightenment.
Numerous tour companies now organize trips to this and other festivals. Recently, JAX FAX traveled with Indebo Tours (www.indebo.com) to Haridwar to experience a year-round sunset ceremony that lit the Ganges with floating candles at a spot called Har-ki-Pauri. Indebo also offers customized itineraries to Kumbh Mela. Visit their Facebook page to see photos.
The IGTO is also promoting rural tourism through farm and plantation stays, adventure and eco-tourism, and health/wellness/yoga immersions. They have even created a separate website (ww.exploreruralindia.org) linked to their main website (www.incredibleindia.org) to promote travel to the more remote regions of the country.
“Incredible” Marketing, Incredible Results
Kothiyal emphasized the “Incredible India” campaign is considered very successful. Prior to launching it in 2002, the UK had always been India’s largest tourist provider. By 2008 however, the US overtook the U.K. as the top generator of tourists to India with 800,000 Americans traveling to India that year.
Although tourism dropped last year, numbers rose in the last quarter of 2009 and first quarter bookings for 2010 are still on the rise. As part of the “Visit India Year 2009” promotion, the IGTO organized a series of Travel Trade Road Shows across the United States, bringing over a number of Indian DMCs and land operators to meet directly with US travel agents and tour operators. In addition, the Incredible India campaign continues to organize worldwide consumer-oriented India Festivals and India Food Festivals in key cities around the world, bringing artisans, chefs and performers to showcase Indian culture. Last summer and fall they held festivals in the Los Angeles area that included: yoga lessons; Bollywood dances and dance lessons; fashion shows; Indian musical performances; displays, sales, and demonstrations of handicrafts, jewelry, mehndi and henna tattoos; and tastings of Indian tea, beer and snacks.
India is constantly making efforts to speed the visa processing time. In December 2009, they instituted a one-year pilot Visa on Arrival program for five preliminary countries: Singapore, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Luxembourg, and Japan. Should the program be successful, it may be continued and expanded.
India’s fiscal year runs April through March. Therefore, as of late January 2010, the IGTO had not yet decided its promotional strategy for April 2010 through March 2011. They were still reviewing many great proposals.
Be sure to check out their experiential You Tube video at www.youtube.com/user/india.