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Monday, 04 September, 2017, 10 : 38 AM [IST]

The interesting business of travel & tourism

The work of a tourism promotion board doesn’t really differ much from one organisation to the other. We’re all trying to reach the same objective. There may be different strategies or approaches to marketing, based on the strengths and USPs of the particular destination or their budgets, but the aim is the same – get more people to visit your destination, and spend more overnights and consequently more money while they’re there. Having been associated with two very distinct tourism boards of two very different destinations, I’ve had to use different methods to promote them in India. However, a few things remain constant and I’ll touch on only a couple of them here.

The first of these that readily springs to mind is the importance of the travel trade in India. Despite prophesies of a doom about the future of the travel agent and the drum-beating about the looming juggernaut that is the Internet, I believe that they will continue to play an important role. Yes “online” is a real disruptor to traditional tourism models and cannot be ignored, but an agent provides the Indian traveller several things that a website can’t, no matter how popular it may be. Think about it. Try getting credit from a website. Try paying a website with cash (especially the undeclared kind), try haggling over price with a website (and don’t we Indians love a good haggle?), and if something goes wrong on the other side of the world at 3am try getting a website to take your phone call and promise to fix the problem within the next few minutes. And here’s another one - how many times have you logged on to a website to get reviews of a place or product, and come away with a definitive opinion? If I read a hundred reviews, half of them will tell you it’s the best thing since sliced bread and the other half will tell you its next only to the plague. But an agent can and will advise you with assurance. These are just a few of the reasons that make me spend a lot of my available resources on trade engagement. The agents and tour operators are critical to achieve our targets and I will continue to believe in their importance, not only in arranging travel but also in influencing decisions on where to travel.

The other aspect of my work that I give importance to is the relevance of the Tier-II and III cities as source markets for overseas destinations. The great Indian traveller is coming from everywhere now, and I believe any tourism board that only focuses on the main metros is missing a trick. A few years ago I found myself standing in a security queue at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and six gentlemen in front of me were chatting away nineteen to the dozen with each other in Gujarati. It was fairly obvious that they weren’t seasoned travellers from their uncertainty of the security procedures and what they needed to put in the tray, etc. While helping them out by suggesting they put their wallets in the tray and not all walk through the detector door together, I asked them where they were from. What they told me was, frankly, inspiring. They were a group of friends who strung enough money together to take a first overseas holiday to Thailand because they had heard so much about it and seen so many Thailand advertisements on TV. They told me this was their first visit but next time they would come with their families. Where they were from and what did they do? Vadodara and Surat. Two had paan shops, another worked as a waiter in a hotel, and one was a peon in a real estate company. This amazed me then (and I saluted their drive and initiative), but it doesn’t amaze me anymore. The person who would holiday domestically is now going short-haul, the short-hauler is going long-haul, and the sky is, very literally, their limit. If you aren’t already, get serious about these people – they will drive outbound tourism growth as the Indian market matures.

That’s what I love about the travel business – it is full of interesting people, whether they travel or they make you travel.

 
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