Dev bhoomi Himachal. That’s what Himachal is known since ages. But I don’t think Himachal Tourism (HT) ever capitalised on that. In fact I’ve been seeing advertisements in newspapers, Uttarakhand hijacking the statement, which Himachal should have long time back branded its tourism industry as. Rather than ‘Dev bhoomi Himachal’, ‘God’s own country’ a rough translation of the Hindi statement would have been appropriate. But I’m sorry to say that Dr A Jayathilak (IAS) hijacked it long time back for Kerala Tourism (KT), which transformed its fortunes. Not surprisingly, Kerala Tourism has been honoured as a Superbrand by international independent arbiter on branding – Superbrands.
Jayathilak did the same for Chhatisgarh Tourism (CT) as well, during Ajit Jogi’s regime, before he was shown the door by Raman Singh. Jayathilak coined “Full of surprises” as the positioning statement for CT. While I’d plan a travel month later, the first thing I’d do today is check out the websites of the state I want to visit. While both CT (chhattisgarhtourism.net) and KT (keralatourism.org) have swanky websites, with easy navigation, HT’s (himachaltourism.nic.in) is a dull one with a basic HTML design that today even a primary school student can design.
I fail to understand what’s holding back Himachal from tapping its tourism potential fully. It’s got infrastructure – though railways and airways are one grey area, but the roads are good and better than any of the other hill states, it’s got nature in abundance, it’s got heritage and it’s got temples as well. I wonder why Himachal temples don’t get a crowd that Badrinath, Kedarnath or even Vaishno Devi get? We have our Jwalaji temple that’s unique. We have Naina Devi. And we have Hatkoti, which I think has a lot of potential because of it being strategically placed on the banks of River Pabbar. If being a Chief Minister and elected from Rohru (8-km from Hatkoti) constituency, Virbhadra Singh has not been able to make Hatkoti a national tourist spot, then I think nobody would be able to do that. However, that’s a different story.
The point is that HT has made no pains to brand itself. We keep hearing time and again about Himachal’s plans to promote tourism – like village tourism is one unique effort, but are there any takers for it? I’m 100 per cent sure that nobody outside Himachal knows that such a plan exists. The government’s intentions are right. It’s not that it doesn’t have the will to promote itself. Most of the tourism coming to Himachal is not on the basis of marketing efforts taken by the government but by the virtue of its legacy. Manali and Shimla are two names that come to a traveller’s mind. And these two places are there on the priority list of every Honeymooner in India. But how about a traveller that travels for the fun of travelling and not for an occasion? What do we have to offer? And the question is wrong here, as we have lot to offer. But are we marketing it well? That’s the question. And my simple answer is – No.
Ministry of Tourism has taken a lot of pain to brand India as a tourism destination and build a brand equity on the “Incredible India” platform. The central government has built up a property, but then are the states leveraging on that property. No we are not. At least the Himachal government has failed on that aspect.
So how should HT approach its branding aspect? Let me take it point wise:
— Revamp your website. Before a tourist reaches the state, in today’s e-world, a website is the face of the state. HT badly needs to revamp and upgrade its website. In fact make it interactive. It can go a step ahead than its competitors in Kerala and Chhattisgarh and put up a blog on its website, and invite travellers and tourists who’ve visited Himachal to share their experiences of travelling in the state. This solves half the problem of HT, as people on their own would write about the fascinating aspects of the state, which a department cannot document all.
— Make the website in five different languages. Besides, English, have French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Hindi versions. KT already has these versions (except Hindi). And that’s how you become relevant to a larger audience by reaching out to them in their language.
— Bring out a fortnightly/monthly newsletter. The e-newsletter can have update of upcoming fairs and festivals and can carry advertisements from local hotels and resorts and news about any promotions and concessions. While the tourism department advertises itself elsewhere, it can partly recover the costs from inviting advertisements for this newsletter.
I’ll repeat, before HT goes into branding, it has to revamp its website. And after that go for branding.
— Have a positioning statement. ‘Dev bhoomi Himachal‘ is clichéd and doesn’t work at the international level. ‘God’s own country‘ has already been hijacked. As a promotional effort, HT can run a contest on its website to send some lines for its “positioning statement” and the winner can enjoy a holiday package for free in Himachal. Though personally I feel, holiday packages as prizes are not much a charm. A prize money would be better of, but as its for tourism, they should give away a holiday package.
— Hire a creative agency. Please grow up and don’t trust the DAVP or your PR department artists. They cannot think beyond a certain point. To address a global audience you have to think globally and hire agencies that have global exposure.
— And hire a media buying agency as well. Professionals know better, which spot and which page and which days to buy. Media consumption is known better by them rather than handling it yourself and approaching your audience at the wrong time at the wrong place.
— Sign a brand ambassador. Himachal does not have the luxury of Mulayam Singh Yadav, who can have Amitabh Bachchan talking on behalf of him. Though I’m not sure how many people believe him. People outside UP hate those ads, but then we don’t know about the people there. They might be liking these ads and falling for the trap. Ask Preity Zinta to endorse Himachal. She can be a good brand ambassador for the state tourism. I know many people would have objections to her being the brand ambassador. But then people don’t like saas-bahu serials as well. But the fact is that the saas-bahu serials get the most TVRs.
— Have tie-ups with websites on Himachal (himvani.com is one good example. However, there are others as well.) Run online campaigns on Timesofinida.com, rediff.com, hindustantimes.com.
— Leverage your presence in Delhi. Have information kiosks at Himachal Bhawan, railway stations and airports, not only in Delhi but Mumbai and other metros as well.
— Have a centralised website than have different websites for tourism and transport. The biggest search engine query that drives traffic to HimVani is “Volvo buses from Delhi to Shimla” and “HRTC online booking”. Unfortunately we don’t offer that. People are not aware of the booking system. Make it centralised. People should be able to do reservations for buses, railways and airlines to Himachal from one single window website.
— Hire famed photographers and bring out innovative and utility calendars and sell them – not in the state – but outside. Tie-up for promos with publications like Lonely Planet, magazines like Outlook Traveller etc.
— Have nature photography competitions in the state.
I’m not going into how to attract investment and which areas should be tapped and all, as that’s a separate story. Here it’s about branding and marketing, the primary ground work of any business today. HT today is a mere commodity that is being consumed. It has to become bigger and become a brand.