Riding the Heritage-Tourism story!

The world of heritage and tourism is so connected at the hip, as much as a sculptor to his muse to as much as his discerning voyeur. A monument to experience will forever be the inspiration; a sculptor or a painter will ply his trade for! The National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States defines heritage tourism as “traveling to experience the places, artifacts, and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past”, and “heritage tourism can include cultural, historic and natural resources”.

The key proof of a continuously living civilization is in its ‘voluminous virasat’ in the form of its heritage that is there to touch, feel, and experience from almost every era.

India probably has more historical monuments per square meter than any other nation on the Earth. Every dynasty, irrespective of it being home-grown to that of the invaders have all left their mark in the form of their heritage value.

Showcasing monuments or their intangible heritage will always be a destination’s USP (Unique Selling Proposition). No two monuments are alike, as their historical significance and contribution to their tourism value.

As monuments bring in a heritage value to a destination, it is the story that brings in the experience. As stories and the storytellers make any destination memorable and add value as a discerning tourist, it is for those in the tourism industry to go niche!

I came across this Release issued by Canada based ‘Bestway Tours & Safaris’ promoting ‘The Beatles in India Tour’, which claims that Free-spirited travelers can ‘relive’ part of the 1960s and discover wondrous India as The Beatles did on their life-changing 1968 visit there, on “The Beatles In India Tour.” The 18-day tour will be led by Emmy-award winning film producer and director, Paul Saltzman, who stayed with and exclusively photographed The Beatles during their visit to India. “The Beatles wrote 48 songs in 7 weeks on that trip – the single most creative period in their illustrious career,” said Saltzman.

The fully escorted tour will visit Rishikesh and other spiritual and special Indian sites where The Beatles came together and will meet Indian musicians who know and performed with members of the group. It includes three days in Rishikesh, a holy city on the Ganges River, which is a gateway to the Himalayas where The Beatles spent considerable time, and a visit to the former ashram where The Beatles meditated. Travelers will meet Indian classical musician, composer and Grammy Award winner Ravi Shankar, who taught George Harrison of The Beatles to play the sitar, and visit Ajit Singh, a famous Vichitra Veena player who also performed with Harrison. There will be visits to the historic “Pink City” of Jaipur, Udaipur, the holy city of Haridwar, Mumbai, the capital city New Delhi, and Agra to see the magnificent “Taj Mahal.” Optional yoga sessions, white-water rafting, and spa treatment can add to the aura.

What differentiates the above package from the regular run of the mill ones that float around is its ability to create an added ‘experience factor’ to the discerning and will surely cost about three times the regular package to India. A bit of research and creativity will add value to bottom lines and yields than playing the number game. About 17 million foreign tourists visited India in 2018, while the domestic traveler reached over half a billion. With the numbers, going south the world over, thanks to the ongoing super tearjerker, going by the name of Covid 19, it is imperative for travel companies and professionals to be creative and discover new sources of inspiration to design ‘Experiences’ for high-value special interest travel individuals and groups.

Travel companies & DMCs focusing on pure numbers will find it difficult to sustain the recession and the competition. Special Interest Travel in India can be fun, diverse, and highly profitable. The biggest advantage is  there are a few parables and thus less competition. Indians are the traditionally great storytellers and will find it easy to take an interest (whether it is based on history, architecture, adventure, wildlife, education, music, World – War Commonwealth war graves, etc), and add value to it by creating a marketable destination package around it. We do not have to go a long way to search for inspiration when we are surrounded by so much at our doorsteps. Small and Medium Enterprises, who cannot match scales of rates and reach of big multinational travel companies will find specializing in creating customized & special interest travel more satisfying and profitable than catering to the rate race to bring numbers and wafer-thin margins.

The downside of Niche travel is the process of finding a market for your created product is where you live with a longer gestation from the time of ‘developing the product’ to ‘marketing’ to being a ‘business’ is longer than traditional ready-made packages. The quality of research used to develop your special interest product and the end-user will determine the higher yield he eventually pays for it. New customers will remunerate for your expertise and knowledge in catering to his interest.

Wikipedia says “In marketing, product differentiation (also known simply as “differentiation”) is the process of distinguishing the differences of a product or offering from others, to make it more attractive to a particular target market. This involves differentiating it from competitors’ products as well as one’s own product offerings. The old-fashioned marketing ideology of creating a USP still works at most times.

There are some interesting little tours in cities of Bengaluru and Mysore with varied themes that have created interests in the expat community here, International delegations, students, tourists and even local residents, who found another dimension to this city, which oscillated wildly from being a once pensioners paradise to the home of the quintessential filter coffee, Masala dosas, and of some of the friendliest brews!

Use your creative instincts to research and identify for instance a ‘Theme for your Dream’ experience package.  Titled after the Singing legend Cliff Richard, who was born in King George Hospital, Victoria Street, in Lucknow on October 14, 1940. How is that for a theme to get cracking at! (‘Theme for your dream’ is a hit Cliff Richard number from the early seventies). Nostalgia is the new opium for heritage buffs from around the world.

With every destination around the world, when the going gets tough, the tough go domestic! Mere sloganeering or having the Prime Minister having to push discerning travelers to travel within is not enough. We have to sensitize state governments to reach out to markets within to have an impact! The attempt to reach out to heritage travel markets is not a smooth highway though, but it sure commands enough respect to reach out to a market closest to hearts and proximity alike.