New Delhi: A replica of the Taj Mahal, by far India’s most enduring symbol, floated down the Thames river on 18July, making for the perfect photo opportunity. What was refreshingly new was that it was an initiative of the Mayor of London, who thought it was the most befitting way to inaugurate the ‘India Now’ campaign in London.
Leena Nandan, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, GoI
The World Travel and Tourism Council has identified India as one of the foremost tourism growth centres in the world in the coming decade. Against this backdrop, the global Indian campaign , mounted by the Ministry of Tourism becomes extremely relevant.
“London chalo” in summer has been a choice for not just well-heeled Indians, film makers, artists and conference organizers but the burgeoning middle class as well. And popular culture reflects it. In a scene from Cheeni Kum, Bachchan, essaying the role of an eccentric chef in an upmarket authentic Indian restaurant, blames slashed airfares that have led to a veritable flood of Indians! There is no doubting the fact that the London-India story is set to acquire a new chapter, this time, to benefit both nations.
Edited excerpts from a telephonic interview with Leena Nandan, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism
Let me start with a very obvious question, “Why London?”
It is impossible not to be under the spell of the India magic that London has been experiencing for sometime now. There is huge interest in everything Indian and I am glad we are putting our best foot forward and capitalizing on this trend. There has been a shared affinity between the two countries and now as we enter our 60th year of Independence, this event becomes even more relevant. Interest in UK is at an all time high. There is a noticeable change in the profile of the Indian traveler thanks to an improved economic status. The timing is perfect.
Tell us how you mounted the India campaign and how is the London one different from those you have had in other countries?
While the Ministry has in the past been running the slightly more generic Incredible India campaigns which were relevant for Australia and/ or Europe, the UK campaign is an exclusively targeted one. It has India-centric events and activities which allow you to make strong visual statements that presents India’s contribution to world culture at a traditional and contemporary level. The mega campaign focuses on London, its hot spots and perceptions of its people about India, while amalgamating this to provide a menu of options that mainstream India to advantage through audio visual/outdoor/print/electronic publicity.
I strongly believe that our campaign can ultimately be only as good as our creatives, which is why we have made a concerted effort to put together this high impact campaign and are very happy with the way it is being received. The synchronicity of the Ministry’s pre publicity efforts and the physical planning of the events over a six-week period by the London Mayor will generate interest which we hope to convert into tourist arrivals in India through the extensive road shows that will be next on the anvil.
Transit vehicles plying along the main routes in London and outdoor panels along the city’s landmarks are wearing a vibrant look with ”Incredible India” colours and a parallel print campaign is running through important publications, focusing on the close links between India and UK.
We knew we were on the right track when we booked 50 outdoor sites in Central London for our creatives to be put up and were pleasantly surprised to find local agencies so appreciative, that they of their own violition made another 27 sites available to us.
How do you see this translating in an increase in tourist traffic?
These promotional activities are being undertaken to further UK as one of the most important source markets for India. We had over 7 lakh tourists from UK visiting India during 2006. Road Shows planned for August in collaboration with the Indian Association of Tour Operators will facilitate greater interaction with their UK counterparts for promoting Indian packages.
What is the current tourist traffic from the UK?
For the six-month period (January to June 2007) arrivals from UK into India have been up by 12% from the corresponding period last year. Foreign exchange earnings also have been close to 14%.
With a tagline, “India is closer than you think”, you are wooing India bound travellers. Is our hospitality industry geared to meet this challenge?
Definitely. It is boom time for India, be it in the hotel industry or at the state government level. There is renewed interest in creating tourist infrastructure that caters to different income levels. From luxury and boat cruises to marketing niche concepts like shopping, beach holidays and spas, we will find lot more variety in this space.
India has a unique advantage of having beaches, mountains, deserts, wildlife and different climate zones that can ensure steady tourist inflow 12-months a year. We are yet to leverage that completely.
Does this aggressive print and a/v campaign in any way signify the upbeat mood of the tourism ministry?
The campaign recognizes the mood and sentiment of the target group and reflects that in every way. Our earlier campaigns which have been just as powerful and thematic have actually paved the way for this transition. In 2004-05 there was the Colours of India campaign followed by the Kitsch style of 2005-06, both of which had strong recall and did generate widespread interest in India.
What is the kind of budget that has been spent/ allocated and is this the biggest campaign that the Ministry has taken on foreign shores?
Rs 30 million (Rs3 crore) has been spent on the campaign by the Ministry. The strength of this initiative lies in the India-UK partnership. The Mayor of London had already decided to have this six-week long India campaign and had shortlisted 150 cultural organizations whose mandate is to bring India to London. Our campaign has intensified the campaign and the results will surely benefit both the countries.
The ITB Berlin event was larger in scope and execution where India was the partner country. We plan to have similar events in New York and other places where there is potential.
Food, cinema, art, fashion are huge draws for Indians and now even Britons. What will be the major highlights of the event?
The spectacular inauguration was at the London Eye. This will be followed by a three-week themed festival, starting 2August at the Trafalgar Square and the Regent Street Festival from 2September, when London’s premier shopping street will be transformed into an Indian streetscape with music, food and artisans.