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Of Land Mines and Gold ones

By Paramjit Bawa, Founder & CEO – Auxilia Networks

A few recent research reports on the Indian travel landscape came up with some pretty encouraging findings. There are facts, opinions and figures aplenty on the potential of the India market, its growth, its aspiring “tourism superpower” status, the rising and increasingly spend-happy Great Indian Middle Class, etc. ad infinitum. All undoubtedly good stuff, I’m sure.

But let’s take a small peek behind the research and have a look at a couple of things it doesn’t talk about.

Despite all the positive India vibes doing the rounds of travel & tourism media, I’m still regularly bumping into tourism execs and business owners at international shows and events shrugging their shoulders, rolling their eyes and telling me “We tried India for a year, it didn’t work for us. We don’t think it’s the right market for us at this time”. Or words to that effect (The poor rep company people from India trying to bag that account are seen beating a disappointed retreat).

Hey there, Messrs. “Not the right market” – here’s some news. There’s a thousand overseas entities just like yours doing successful business in India, some for many years, while you licked your wounds and left. So what are they doing that you aren’t? Well, they figured out a few things that you didn’t. Here’s a few (just a few) of them:

The first error that’s made by businesses (not just tourism ones) that struggle in India is to assume its one country. Buzzer sound! Politically maybe. But there’s actually four or five countries in one. As one moves from north to south, east to west, everything changes – climate, language, food, social behaviour, culture, music, dance, demographic and family structures, people’s priorities, and importantly, the way money is both saved and spent. One may even find variation from a big metro to a smaller town in the same region. One size most certainly DOES NOT fit all. A sales pitch that works in Kolkata may not necessarily work in Kochi. And because the consumer is different, the way the travel trade works will, by necessity, be different too. There’s too many aspects to this to be accommodated in this blog, suffice to say the understanding of this diversity is fundamental to success in this market.

Second place goes to the number of passport holders in India. What’s the number that keeps popping up in water-cooler chats? Almost 101 million issued just in the past 20 years – from 2014 till April 2023. Don’t take my word for it, just ask Google. OK, our population is gargantuan and we have a LOT of passport holders. But they’re not all going to be your customers. So two words I might suggest to anyone looking to do business in India – “target” & “segment”. One man’s cruise liner is another man’s Titanic – or something like that.

Ironically, there’s one aspect to Indians that is common across the whole country, and again, it’s a critical one that many fail to understand the significance of. Unlike many societies around the world, especially in the “developed” world (I confess I do not really understand what that means), where the predominant societal norm is the concept of “I”, India’s has always been predominantly that of “We”. Its there in the way our families are structured, in our communities, cultures and faiths, and even our businesses. And “We” implies relationships. And outside of families, building lasting relationships takes time and effort. So here’s the thing – India isn’t, and never was, a quick-fix market. A year isn’t going to hack it. Don’t be fooled by the big numbers, because they don’t guarantee big business. The secret to success here is forming relationships. If you know the people you deal with well, beyond just business, they will not turn away from you. Meet up, have a meal together, remember their anniversaries and their kids’ birthdays, call them, work with them – but regularly. They won’t stop doing business with you.

I think I‘m very close to the point where you’re going to click on that cross in the top corner, so let me close by saying this to Messrs. “Not the right market” – India is very much the right market for you, just approach it in the right way, work with the right people. But don’t expect big returns straight off the bat. It’s a market that demands time, investment and patience. And once it builds momentum for you, it could be THE market.

Doing business in India can be like walking through landmines but if you get it right it can also be like walking through a gold mine.

Auxilia helps to unravel this complex market and make you India-ready.


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