Immersive Trails Co-founder and wife Chelsea McGill and I have been to several tourism meetings in the last 4 years about branding and marketing Bengal. The two topics of discussion were common in these meetings.
1. Branding and marketing targeted at the “inbound”
2. Tourism=Durga Puja
In our limited experience in building an experiential tourism company from scratch, I think this has been our Achilles Heel in branding Bengal.
First, yes, foreign tourists bring in a lot of foreign exchange. But this foreign exchange they bring in is very seasonal. And guess what, they do not go to half of the places in Bengal due to lack of branding and a lack of infrastructure. Why can we not brand Bengal for everyone? People who live here, people who live in other parts of India and also people who visit from abroad? This is how the famine and feast of tourism can be countered, when tourism does make a comeback, and it will.
Second, branding Durga Puja is of course very, very important. But we should brand the rest of the year too in Bengal. Bengal has so many festivals, so much of craft and traditions all year long, so much of history and heritage, and so much of natural beauty. Why can we not brand some of these too? Why can we not brand other seasons? Once again, putting emphasis only on those few days of Durga Puja leads to famine and feast in the tourism industry as well which is not sustainable.
There are ample precedents in tourism in India about branding and marketing a place to attract tourists even in what is considered an “off-season” for that destination. For example, Taj Hotels marketed Goa as a monsoon destination in the 1980s touting its beauty in that season. This resulted in a massive rise of tourists, domestic and international visiting Goa during the monsoon. Or maybe, look at how Kerala, a state which gets two long stretches of monsoon, markets this to the tourists.
We can brand and market Bengal in much, much, much more diverse way too than it is done in conventional tourism. But this marketing has to absolutely be backed with a robust tourism infrastructure in the places we market. If we can do this, I do not see why we wouldn’t get visitors from within the state and the country, and worldwide, all year long.
Also, I strongly believe that the days of large tour groups are gradually ending. People, especially in a post-COVID19 world would focus on a bouquet of immersive micro-experiences, and spend their money wisely on tours that can provide a wide range of learning, connectedness and fulfilment.
I sincerely hope that Bengal and conventional tourism can embrace that and change themselves, and change fast.