Incredible India 2.0

Incredible India 2.0
Highlights

India’s natural, cultural, linguistic, and historical diversity positions her in a globally unique and enviable position with an unmatched set of tour-able attractions

India’s natural, cultural, linguistic, and historical diversity positions her in a globally unique and enviable position with an unmatched set of tour-able attractions to offer to the global traveler. Right from the grand Himalayas in the North to the vast Oceans in the South; from the narrow streets in ancient Kashi to the vibrant multi-lane roads of Mumbai; from the forests of Gir to the IT Parks in Bangalore – India has an inexhaustible stack of offerings to every kind of traveler. India has almost been tailor made to be THE tourist destination. Unfortunately, close to 7 decades after Independence, Indian Governments have been able to do very little to leverage this inheritance.

As per the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO, http://mkt.unwto.org/publication/unwto-tourism-highlights-2014-edition), while China and Thailand have made it to the Top 10 World Tourist Destinations in terms of International Tourist Arrivals, India has only about one-eighth the number of International tourists as that of China and one-fourth that of Thailand.
In the year 2002, two important things happened. Firstly, India’s National Tourism Policy was updated after its initial formulation in 1982. Secondly, the Government conceptualized the Incredible India campaign as a strategy for aggressive marketing. While the campaign was able to produce favorable results, the ground realities in terms of Tourism Products and Tourist experience were and still are unable to keep up with the marketing.
Over the last decade we have seen many interesting technology ventures in this space. In terms of ticketing and other reservation services, we have seen the rise of several Web Portals. Government websites have also tried to keep up by having facilities like IRCTC, or State Tourism Department products available on the Internet. While there have been several improvements, the challenges and opportunities continue to remain immense in size and diversity.
Connectivity
Foremost, the government has to find ways to ensure better ‘Internet connectivity’. Most tourist destinations that are not Tier A or B cities have poor or no Internet connectivity. An easy way of letting International tourists stay connected while in India may be through tourist friendly mobile connections for pre-defined time periods made available in Airports booths. Just ensuring connectivity opens up a whole new range of possibilities for private technology entrepreneurs to step in and improvise.
For example, concerns of safety could be minimized with mobile apps offering increased connectedness and location tracking. Further, this being a new channel to reach the tourist 24x7, it becomes possible to deliver rich content to make the tourists visit safe, pleasant and memorable. Such content could include as diverse things as local Law Enforcement Agency contacts to a directory of local tour operators, railway and flight time tables, to calendar of fairs and festivals and many more.
In today’s world, where Viral Marketing has a special place, tourists not being able to share their joy through Social Networking Websites because of lack of connectivity are marketing opportunities squandered.
Navigability
A second major challenge before India is ‘destination navigability’ for the tourist. The ease with which a tourist can navigate through a place depends firstly, on accessibility of relevant information and secondly, on the ease of interaction with the local setups.
While India is a multi-product tourist destination with every flavor of attraction on the menu card, the navigability of these places is clumsy and inadequate. In a mission-mode, India must go about digitizing tourism content and making it available over different channels. These must include adequate digital content in form of maps, audio - video tours, recommendations, etc.
The second challenge to increase navigability is easing interaction with local infrastructure. Typically local setups in India dealing with the management of tourist places encourage the proliferation of middle men in all aspects, right from ticketing ‘assistance’ to ‘unofficial’ guides and exploitative local transportation. Integrating such local infrastructure into a centralized tourism network could potentially simplify the interaction between Tourists and Local interactions. Imagine being able to purchase tickets to the Taj Mahal on your mobile without having to be in a queue.
Enabling Local Entrepreneurship
The experiences of tourists can only be pleasant to the extent the local population are satisfied and benefited. This in turn makes it very important that forward looking Government programs that simplify local entrepreneurship be run aggressively. Encouraging a systemic participation will also help minimize the annoying ‘middle man’ culture that proliferates when the local populations do not have access to better means of employment in the industry.
Further, government assistance in matters of IT infrastructure to local entrepreneurs by providing businesses listing, advertising, linguistic accessibility etc can make such participation more effective.
Private Technology Entrepreneur Participation
With the massive IT Talent Pool living in a naturally entrepreneurial environment, an easy way to catalyse activity in any industry is to build the base technology platform and open it to the Technology world. Extensive computerization and building of development platforms and APIs can easily trigger exponential growth in private participation and useful services being offered to tourists.
Marketing
While the other aspects are worked on, the power of Marketing needs to be exercised aggressively. In addition to the successful ‘Incredible India’ campaign, other innovative avenues have to be worked out. For example, Youtube and Twitter channels, greater Social Media integration, virally marketed tourist videos, photos, testimonials etc could be innovative marketing means.
Though in 2002, the then Government did show foresight in updating the Tourism Policy, however, sadly, the policy had no place for application of Information Technology. Subsequently, in terms of policy or practice, not enough has been observed in terms of consciously utilizing IT in tourism by the UPA governments over the last decade.
With the potential for Tourism that India already has, all pieces of the jigsaw are already available. Making much of the above possible also requires an active promotion of E-Governance, enablement of imaginative local participation and a conscious allocation of thought to Information Technology in matters of policy. After long, it can be reasonably expected that the present government may review our policies and approaches for the best.

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