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Tuesday, 19 February 2013 14:43

India’s Branding Expands Tourism Territory

Written by  Marian Goldberg
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Recently Nareendra Kothiyal, Information Officer for the India Government Tourist Office (IGTO) in New York, spoke about India’s marketing activities. The New York office is IGTO’s regional office for the Americas, overseeing offices in Los Angeles, Canada, and South America. Their goal is to position India as a “global brand.” 
Unlike tour operators, which tend to be interested in promoting popular sites in well- known and well-developed regions of India (i.e. places with good infrastructure and accommodations suitable for their clients), the tourist office’s mission is to promote all of India—especially emerging destinations that are lesser known, less developed and off the beaten path. For that reason, IGTO is particularly interested in expanding rural tourism and in promoting their newly formed (about 2 ½ years ago) states. 
The trio of “New States” includes a destination in Northern India, one in Eastern and one in the Central part of the country. Uttarakhand, set in Northern India, is also known as the “Gateway to the Valley of the Gods,” and includes Haridwar, the area from which the Ganges River reaches the plains from the Himalayas. It is popular spot for spirituality, health and wellness. Jharkhand in Eastern India is rich in greenery, attractive waterfalls, and desirable minerals; and popular for its health and wellness retreats. Chhattisgarh, located in the heart of India, is renowned for its rich tribal populations and bio-diversity. 
Explains Kothiyal, “The idea of rural tourism is for travelers to really get out into the villages, mingle with the local people, and really feel the village life.”


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. 
For more information, contact the India Government Tourism Office, 212-586-4901; email  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or visitwww.incredibleindia.org
Be sure to check out their experiential You Tube video at www.youtube.com/user/india.

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