I love my country. I am a proud Indian. But I am also pragmatic at times and that part of me says that we will not reach 33 million in a very, very long time. Here is why.
First, we are today at Zero tourist arrivals. We do not have any horizon when India will open up for foreign tourists and no information on what the protocols shall be when we do. So, sitting in the last quarter of 2020 with no strategy, no plan, and no idea on what to do next it is not useful to make grand plans. Starting from ground zero is no way to aim for tripling our arrivals. The basic recovery will be hard for India let alone any growth.
The Government at all levels, be it Central or State, Tourism or Finance or whatever, must understand that all their past actions over the past 10-15 years have had a relatively poor ROI in tourism. We have seen degrowth & deceleration in arrivals from key high value markets. The MoT has these numbers to prove that.
So, if we want to have a brighter future, the most obvious starting point is to think and do things differently. Doing what we have done in the past and expecting different result is insane. The global industry was already changing pre-Covid and now post, it’s even more unrecognisable.
But let’s assume the Government’s intentions are good and the desire strong (which I do believe it is). They need to do 5 basic things.
First, recognize that the Indian inbound tourism industry has been severely damaged, and in many parts irreversibly. If your production and servicing units are down, you cannot move forward. So, this segment specifically needs some support directly from the Ministry to heal and recover. Be that financially, be that legislatively, there are options. But if the government does not fix the backbone and spine of inbound tourism, no effort of theirs to increase numbers will succeed. Be a doctor and fix the patient.
Second, the MoT needs to reset all their old systems and policies. Look at the world afresh. Pretend the Ministry is a new one starting on January 1, 2021. You most certainly would not start with the old ways of operating. Create a cutting edge competitive and merit-based environment. This is a unique Ministry as it promotes the Soul of our nation. So, it should not operate on archaic larger practices of governance. Retire ‘Incredible India’ and restart afresh. The world has changed. How people will travel will change. The reasons to travel have changed. This is a whole new world not only for India but for every one of our competing destinations. If we assume that our systems from the past will work in the future, then we may be in for a rude shock. We need a sexy & vibrant Ministry of Tourism 2.0.
Third, accept that the Target Audience has been changing over the years and the pandemic has accelerated that change. All traditional marketing tools are no longer relevant. We are very old fashioned and stuck to the same old vision of India which is boring and irrelevant. We need to recognise who our competition is, do a deep SWOT analysis, and go from there. I would recommend they take advantage of the captive knowledge of our inbound players in India to do this. Unfortunately, the Ministry relies far too much on association heads as its single point of contact to the outside world. That is wrong and they are getting tainted secondary data. Get firsthand input from people who actually have serious business interests. I am sure the top 20 inbound players can give more qualitative & relevant input and strategic advice than any marketing agency. They just have to ask. You have the power before you to act differently.
Fourth, empower the tourism cadre members who you have in the Ministry. They are treated with disdain and subservience. The professional administrative officers come for a few years and leave. There is no continuity of thought, policy, or experience. Those who have been in the ministry for years have a wealth of knowledge and experience to assist the administrators. They need to be empowered to speak without retribution or hierarchy. Try it. I know so many of them and I know how they can shine with a little love and affection. Right now, their talent is underutilised and they are wilting away.
Fifth, recognise that your biggest and most faithful Sales Force are your Inbound Tour Operators and DMCs. This is a group of people who spend months of the year traveling around the world selling India. We are knocking on doors, pounding pavements, spending our own money in national interest. We are fighting, begging, convincing people to sell and promote India. You will not have a stronger sales team than this. And the government will never have the market penetration we do. Yet, we are a most ignored lot. A most unsupported lot. For the next 24 months do a few things.
- For the next 2 years give every MoT recognised inbound operator unrestricted air tickets to invite 4 international travel agents per year to India to experience the destination. Just the air tickets with no questions asked. The rest we can take care of. None of us will be stupid to misuse these as we all want to charm our clients in our turf. At an average of Rs 80,000 per ticket (some will be cheaper, some more) x 4 per year x 500 recognised Inbound Agencies that is just about Rs. 16 crores a year. That’s peanuts in the budgetary scheme of things. All your Indian trade shows all-together will never produce 2,000 highly qualified buyers in a year. This is a no brainer on an ROI.
- For the next 24 months, none of us will have the marketing power we did as we have all run out of money. So, support all inbound agencies with a scaling support system. The current MDA scheme is unfair and penalises those who are successfully selling India. Open it to all companies with parameters. Bigger companies are bigger because they have invested more and worked hard. Not because they cheated anyone. Be equitable to all your children. We all need some support, no matter how much it is. Look at this as an investment, not an expense.
- Create on a war footing a world-class online India Specialist training program and collateral tool kits (images, media, designs etc) that we as inbound players can offer our partners. Outsource this in a global tender to get the best in class. Give us tools to excite our customers.
These are some things that the Ministry of Tourism can do itself without having to go to the larger government. Sometimes the solutions are just in front of us. We just need to open our eyes & ears and listen. Think differently. Act differently. Be inclusive. Be ready to experiment. Be ready to take risks. Be ready to hear constructive feedback.
This is the path to 33 million.
Happy to get feedback and thoughts on this issue.
Joint Managing Director, Creative Travel