States rebrand offbeat destinations to fit a contemporary travel wish list

In Kerala, the boat race has been packaged as a cultural event
Food, hidden hotspots, adventure and culture—these form the thrust of the marketing pitch from state tourism boards, not pilgrimages or monuments as was the norm in the past, as all scramble to rise to the challenge tossed out by the Prime Minister on social media.

Go to 15 domestic spots by 2022, the PM tweeted and the tourism boards, expecting a multiplier effect given the nature of such challenges, are dredging the list to come up with innovative experiences. Some are marketing their past with a twist, such as Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh tourism boards. Some such as Gujarat Tourism are stirring in a spiritual flavour into a traditional temple trail and targeting non-resident Gujaratis (NRG) and others such as Kerala are reimagining their destinations to fit a contemporary wish list. 

Travel agencies such as Thomas Cook India have jumped in too with a curated bucket list of 15 ‘must visit’ Indian gems through the campaign #travelpledge2022. Rajeev Kale, president and country head, Holidays, MICE, Visas-Thomas Cook India said that the call to visit at least 15 domestic destinations by 2022 will catalyse demand for this high potential yet under-leveraged sector. 

However, the challenge will lie in appealing to the high-spending tourist who is drawn to the ease of international travel at near-comparable prices. While several state tourism departments refused to discuss their plans in detail, some such as Kerala Tourism Director P Balakiran said, “We have launched our campaigns and products to appeal to both high spenders and backpackers.”

Photo: @PMOIndia
Kerala is being rebranded as the ‘Land of adventure’ and Balakiran has an ambitious target, to double the participation of tourists in adventure tourism in one year, while promoting new destinations in North Kerala that has been relatively underexplored on the tourism map so far. 

For Gujarat, the newly anointed Statue of Unity is one of the highlights along with step wells and heritage sites in Lothal, Dholavira etc, said a spokesperson for Gujarat Tourism. They see huge potential in senior tourism and the tourism department is packaging its cultural and historical sites as a ‘back-to-the-roots’ experience for this audience. The tourist inflow has gone up by close to 30 per cent from 2016-17 to 2018-19, the figures show, and with the renewed thrust, there could be a further spike, said Jenu Devan, managing director, Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd. 

Most Indian states have a bunch of Unesco-certified world heritage spots and the tourism departments are using these to brand their travel experiences. In Tamil Nadu for instance, culture is being packaged as the biggest draw for tourists. In the last two years, there has been a renewed focus on attracting tourists by promoting a host of events, said a senior official from Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation. Kerala is promoting a monsoon music festival and the Champions Boat League (CBL). 

Many state tourism departments have spent the past few years rebranding their states in the image of the new traveller. Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Chattisgarh are among some who have been aggressively pushing their destinations on social media. These states will benefit from the challenge thrown by the PM said a spokesperson for OYO.

“Over the last couple of months, we’ve seen good traction in offbeat destinations across the country. As per OYO’s H1 2019 data, amongst offbeat destinations like Chail, Almora, Alwar, Chikmagalur, Coorg, Yercaud, Coorg emerged as the most booked destination with a 119 per cent increase in bookings as compared to last year. If the huge enthusiasm garnered online by the challenge does translate into real-time gains for the country’s domestic travel circuit, these could well be the places to hit pay dirt.

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