There are 8,266 aircraft flying across the world right now as we write this. We peer at the screen. They look like a swarm of yellow flying ants covering the globe. They’re massed around Asia, streaming across to Europe. The swarm is so thick over India that the shape of our subcontinent is obscured. That congestion of planes is likely to get thicker; much thicker. On August 15 this year, that remarkable extempore speech made from the battlements of the Red Fort inflamed the imagination of the world. “Are we seeing another Asian Tiger emerging?” people asked themselves. “Is India going to take a great leap into its industrialised future the way China and South Korea did? How will the ‘Make in India!’ call change the face of this ancient land?” That’s something we don’t know; no one knows. But there is one thing we do know. That call has created a wave of curiosity, and curiosity is the greatest driver of tourism.
The people who come to India in search of new opportunities will also be hungry for new experiences. Most urbanites the world over...and the first wave of ‘Make in India’ explorers will be largely people from the great mega cities of the globe...most of them live in teeming, stacked, high-rise population centres that look remarkably alike. They live consumer-oriented, politically-correct lifestyles, dress in the same fashionable way, behave like each other, even have the same international smell out of the same expensive, stereotyped bottles. Conformity is Acceptability across the Board Rooms of London, Paris, Rome, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, Seoul and Mumbai. But continued exposure to conformity breeds a yearning for change, a need to get away from insipid familiarity, a curiosity to experience a different way of life. Curiosity is, in every way, the ultimate source of our living.
This is where we have an edge over the rest of the world. America prides itself in being a great melting pot where all immigrants, eventually, strive to conform to a monolithic American way of life. In China, it’s the Han way or no way. Even seemingly varied Europe is rapidly being Euroised, though the break-up of the Soviet Union has shown that people still fight against enforced ‘integration’! For some strange and wonderful reason, we Indians have stubbornly resisted such bland homogenisation. In spite of the determined efforts of conquerors and religious zealots, we have remained a mosaic of 4,635 communities divided into six main ethnic groups from Negrito through Nordic Aryan, speaking more than 1,652 mother tongues and claiming to follow seven major religions and a number of lesser ones.
No other country in the world can match this determined diversity. As in nature, where mono-culture is dangerous and prone to mass extinction, our multi-culture is our towering strength. It is the reason why we, in India, belong to the world’s oldest, continuous civilisation. Our resilient cultural diversity has cushioned us, tempered us, toughened us and given us the flexibility to resist all attempts to force us into a rigid, brittle, unvarying mould. This age-toughened and brilliant diversity is what we, in the travel industry, must emphasise to our guests.
“But how will all this help our business?” you might ask. “How do we convert this into hard cash?” Simple, let’s promote our festivals vigorously.
People love festivals, they love seeing them, taking part in them. Festivals bring together large swathes of ordinary people, dressed in their finery, enjoying themselves shopping, feasting, playing, celebrating customs as old as our civilisation. They are brilliant, natural, encounters with the throbbing timeless essence of India. All we have to do is to choose the most appropriate and make them a little tourist-compatible. Even the obscurest little festival, if it is in an accessible location and held at a visitor-friendly time of the year, can be publicised for tourists. In fact, such festivals are ideal focal points for local MPs and MLAs to spend their Area Development Funds and create model villages during their five-year tenure. We need to concentrate on security, hygiene, authentic information about the origin, legends, customs and traditions of the chosen festivals, and have trained and effectively communicative guides. Local people should also be taken into confidence about what they can expect from tourists visiting their festival and the direct benefits of such visits. It is important to inform people that tourism is not a quick-fix solution. It will take years to mature and be recognised, but when that happens, it can give long-term benefits to the entire region.
This is what we, in the travel trade, should do:
- Every local chapter should visit and interact with the leaders of every temple, vihara, church, masjid, gurdwara and local community to find out details of every religious and social festival in its area.
- These should then be assessed for suitability (animal sacrifices are generally unsuitable), accessibility, local sentiments regarding the attendance of ‘outsiders’ or foreigners (desis might be OK, firangs no).
- The potential for the development of tourism-compatible facilities, hygiene and security at every festival site should be evaluated.
- The festivals scoring high in all these basic criteria should then be listed in a concordance giving the dates of their occurrence in a five-year international calendar updated by a year every year.
Give the concordance wide publicity to attract the passengers in those 8,266 aircraft above us!