The highly successful Incredible India campaign was initially launched by the government of India in 2002. Amitabh Kant, the Jt Secy of the Ministry of Tourism at that time is credited with initiating the promotion with a private advertisement company. After the first seven years the instantly successful campaign was expanded to include domestic tourism as well in 2009. The ‘Atithi Devo Bhav’ add-on to the campaign was also accepted locally to quite an extent despite the huge distances it could still have covered. It is now again seven years since that renewed push.
A recent survey and analysis using the Fishbein Multi-attribute model showed a good attitude score of most of the elements of the long running campaign. Ever since the campaign was launched, the world also witnessed huge strides in communication and information technologies. The campaign was quickly molded to grow and adapt to the new strategic needs quite efficiently.
The campaign has used the right media to promote India in order to attract tourist, the campaign has also been proactive to understand that the way it has functioned till now cannot sustain forever and it needs a new strategy to move forward in future. A paltry 0.6% share of FTA’s is not much to celebrate - all said and done.
The Incredible India campaign has been successful. It has been a path breaking, innovative new age style media thrust. It was the first serious attempt to create a brand identity for a country that has probably as many centuries in its past as it has decades in its history post independence. These are three postulates that are unquestioned, established and well accepted. Perhaps it is time to face up to a fourth fact.
The ‘brand’ of the ‘product’ grew on the strength of its sound basics of variety and majesty, despite the usual infrastructure potholes everyone bemoans at all forums. It grew on the basis of the efforts of thousands of tourism officials, businesses and other professionals who, often, indirectly, worked within their own spheres of influence and responsibility with only business as their incentive and not any greater national vision in mind.
The recent brouhaha about brand ambassadors — the termination of their contracts, conjectures over new faces to be included are not as central to the project as it is often made out to be. India is a far greater and weighty ‘product’ to be discussed in the light of brand ambassadors only. The obsession with celebrities must take a back seat now- at least if it is the country that needs a fillip on the promotional front.
By trying to rely too intensely on an individual, howsoever great and popular, the odds of success do remain exposed to vagaries of the times. It is important to remember that the most positive impact for tourism prospects comes from the people. In a candid talk with some British, Turkish and Cypriot tourists recently, I was struck by a statement they made. They said that’ people at most places, especially in the west might be polite, but they not friendly. In India, the ‘informality’ might not rank high on strict ‘social etiquette’ rules but the friendliness shines through clearly. Usual loud and a too-familiar approach might be irritating to us, but the warmth it sometimes hides is picked up decisively by visitors.
In a society as complex, stratified and variable as in India, there are extremes that confront any tourist. The tourist is not always white Anglo saxon.The campaign managers and creative teams of the ad men might do well to ponder on this angle too. Even among the typical tourist type, the change is significant. History, sights and culture might be a winner but it is people who win the day (or sink it) for the country.
The bad press of unsafe women had hurt the brand bad. By bringing the common people on the front lines, a direct bid can be made to change any vestiges of that perception.
The British tourism posters at Heathrow herald smiling visages of traffic policemen, shopkeepers, guards, even hair stylists and waiters- indicating that everyone welcomes visitors. By thrusting responsibility on the common person, the warmth of the people can be highlighted. It is not fair to consistently blame and highlight the bad incidents in a self flagellating attitude. While steps do need to be taken to ensure safety and sanity, it would be wise to remember that it is the people who actually make the visitors stay worthwhile. For an international audience Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan do not matter – the immigration officer, the taxi driver, the waiter, the hotel receptionist and the balloon seller does.
A celebrity might look good in an ad but it’s time the junta also got its due. Are the ad men listening? (The author is a freelance writer based in Delhi and a regular contributor for TravelBiz Monitor)