As a tourist destination, Bihar has plenty going for it. There’s history—the world’s most sacred Buddhist sites cover its northern edge, and a thread of vast empires and local kingdoms runs back thousands of years. There’s also no scarcity of fiercely vibrant local culture, from Madhubani paintings to Bhojpuri cinema.
On 21 May, the state government announced that marketing firm Percept Activ had been chosen to “promote” Bihar tourism, and draw attention to the state as a possible “major tourist destination”. As part of the mandate, Percept organized a two-day road show in Thimphu, Bhutan. Sanjay Shukla, the chief operating officer of Percept Activ, spoke to Lounge about unconventional advertising, Bihar’s culture and reviving the Buddhist circuit. Edited excerpts from the interview
How has tourism in Bihar performed in the last few years? Why the decision to promote it heavily now?
The Bihar government noticed a fair bit of growth in tourist figures in the last two years. The number of domestic tourists went up to 15,787,256 in 2010 from 15,784,679 in 2009, which is only a growth of 1%. But the number of foreign tourists went up 16%, from 423,042 in 2009 to 492,913 in 2010.
Pilgrimage: The Buddha at Bodh Gaya, part of Bihar’s tourist circuit.
Most of that growth come from places like Gaya, Rajgir, Bodh Gaya and Vaishali—which constitute what’s known as the Buddhist circuit. We have plans to revive that.
How will you do this?
We’re trying to make it more active. The route exists in this informal manner and pulls in many foreign tourists, but we hope to formalize it. Introduce packages, for instance. During our Bhutan road show, (chief minister) Nitish Kumar announced his intention to allocate land in Rajgir for guest houses. We hope more tourism infrastructure like that comes up.
Most of your mandate is marketing and promotion—are you planning to organize more road shows?
In the first phase, we’ll have more road shows across Indian state capitals to increase domestic tourism. We hope to draw attention to parts of Bihar that people don’t know too well. We’ll have exhibits of Madhubani paintings, samples of Bihari and Bhojpuri cuisine and information on the state’s famous melas (fairs). These include the Sonepur fair, which is one of the largest cattle fairs in Asia, and the Sorath Mela in the north of Bihar. In the second phase, we go international. I can’t reveal too much right now since it’s still being planned, but we have a lot of ideas.