The digital revolution comes to travel in India (finally)
I STARTED TRAVEL blogging in India in 2005. That makes me one of the old timers. For the first decade, until about 2015, travel blogging and promoting travel and tourism online in India wasn’t as well accepted or valued as is it in Europe and North America – which made it exceedingly difficult for me to build a career here as a digital storyteller. I could relate many tales of disappointment and frustration as I tried to work as a professional digital storyteller here … but I would rather concentrate on the positive.
Times are changing. I’m starting to see professional, sophisticated digital campaigns in India. This can only help India’s tourism industry – as they’re lagging way behind in terms of creating quality, searchable travel content online. I was really encouraged when Outlook media group created the Outlook Social Media (OSM) Awards – and of course totally thrilled to win Traveller of the Year in early October! This seemed to signal that India was recognizing the power and impact of online influencers.
In this post, I’m focusing on international campaigns, but I would also like to give a shout out to a current campaign spear-headed by Ajay Jain of Kunzum, who’s based in Delhi. #IndiaisCalling is a very ambitious initiative to promote tourism to India on an international scale. There are many facets to the campaign, as it develops and unfolds, including a travel bloggers conference, called Blog IT, to be held in India in September 2017.
“Indian tourism is a story of unrealized potential and ambitions because of poor marketing,” Ajay Jain said. ” There is huge global interest in travelling to India and we have everything that a traveller can ask for — and yet we lag behind in tourist traffic. Our promotional spend is one of the highest in the world, yet much of it is misdirected. Billboards and ads are not enough to sell destinations any more; decision making happens through storytelling by digital influencers who have the trust of their respective audiences. When Indian tourism identifies bloggers, influencers and media who matter, and invests in press trips and promotions through them in significant quantum, that is when the buzz about India will start. And then we should sit back and enjoy the magic that unfolds.”
I fully endorse and support #IndiaisCalling, and hope the private sector in India does too. This is the campaign the Incredible India tourism people should be doing, but aren’t, because of their lack of digital savvy.
UP Travel Writers Conclave
In October, I took part for the second year in the UP Travel Writers Conclave, co-sponsored by the UP Tourism department and Lonely Planet India Magazine. I have to give the #UPTWC full marks for bringing together top-quality digital story tellers from India and abroad, and creating interesting and well-organized itineraries that showcase the states’ three top tourism destinations: Agra, Lucknow and Varanasi.
The UPTWC is at the leading edge of international digital travel campaigns in India, in my opinion … and they still have a ways to go. The Conclave day itself, at the end of the press trips, is not useful to the journalists and storytellers. It’s really more of a political photo opp. I recommend bringing in experts for the journalists to interview one-on-one, as per their interests. Ot how about a press conference, where local journalists can interview the bloggers?
Also, there should be a provision for either paying the bloggers or giving them an opportunity to be paid for providing digital content – perhaps to a microsite, an e-book or the Lonely Planet India Magazine itself. Perhaps the magazine could put out a supplement about travel in U.P., for example. It’s common in international campaigns to pay digital storytellers for the content they create.
Read this comprehensive write-up about the campaign from Anna of Global Gallivanting, one of the other participants.
ITC Instameet reaches millions on Instagram
I also took note of the Instameet driven by ITC Hotels and the phenomenally successful Instragram account Beautiful Destinations (with more than 1.7 million followers). Some very beautiful and fantasy-filled images of India were created on 20 top Instagram accounts, said to reach 40 million. Though I appreciate this endeavour, and applaud it, I feel that travel in India needs more than beautiful and inspiring images to move people to actually booking.
Many people do want to visit India, they’ve seen lots of inspiring images from the Incredible India campaign, but they also need reassurance and information. I know this from many years of personal experience: as an India-focused female travel blogger, people reach out to me every day on my various platforms to ask for information and to get reassurance about issues around safety, hygiene, booking tickets, etc.
#Escape2Goa is rocking my world
More recently, I was witness to the #Escape2Goa campaign. This was the brainchild of Prachi Jain and her team at Leave Ur Mark – a very worthwhile initiative in Bangalore to bring international volunteers to India. Leave Ur Mark works hard to ensure the volunteer opportunities are valuable to everyone involved.
Prachi and Leave Ur Mark wanted to do a campaign with international travel bloggers and influencers that showcased India as a travel destination – but soon realized it was way too big for them to do alone. They teamed up with the innovative-thinking people at Goa Tourism (GTDC). I met Managing Director Nikhil Desai last year when I was in Goa on a press trip to cover “The Other Side of Goa,” and was not surprised to find out he embraced the bold and sophisticated idea behind #Escape2Goa.
When I sat down with Mr Desai last year, I told him the challenges travel bloggers and influencers face, and advised him on how to appeal to us with respect and professionalism. Among other things, I told him EMPHATICALLY to invite bloggers and to NOT make them compete in a popularity contest online. This strategy has been used in India … but many of the leading, professional international travel bloggers find it insulting and demeaning.
So I was delighted to find out that the #Escape2Goa team invited 300 top bloggers and influencers to apply for the campaign, and they hand-picked the 15 who landed here in India on November 11 to begin the trip. The bloggers and influencers chosen are some of the most successful and talented out there, and they include several people who I have long known and admired such as Brendan Van Son, Kirsten Alana and Nienke, The Travel Tester. The itineraries were also carefully created, with three streams that perfectly match the bloggers’ expertise: Food, Luxury and Adventure.
By chance, I had booked to fly to Panjim, Goa on November 10 – the day before the bloggers were due to arrive. Also by chance, I was booked into the same hotel, the Panjim Inn. I was hosted on November 10 by Stayzilla. I will be writing more about Stayzilla, India’s largest platform for homestays.
So the wonderful people from Goa Tourism and the #Escape2Goa team invited me to stay at the Panjim Inn for two nights, November 11 and 12, and partake in the welcome activities, such as a dinner at Mandovi Restaurant and a cruise on the Mandovi River. I got to know the bloggers, who came from all over the world – including England, Spain, Brazil France, USA and Canada. And I came to find out the campaign was a year in the planning.
They are all out spreading out all over Goa for the next 10 days (November 12-22), showcasing the many wonders of Goa to the world on their respective platforms – that together total 5 million followers. And I wish them the best of luck. Most of them have never been to India before, and I only hope they love it half as much as I do! You can follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and on their blogs by following #Escape2Goa.
The future is digital
I hope the travel and tourism industry takes note of these leading edge campaigns, and realizes the value and impact of hiring top-quality, professional digital storytellers to help tell India’s stories. People of this calibre deserve to be treated with respect, and they deserve to be paid for the impactful content they create.
Today, online content is far, far more important than traditional media and advertising. People search online when they are planning their travels, and they trust authentic, known and authoritative sources such as professional digital story tellers. It’s high time marketing and advertising budgets reflect this change, and that money is moved over to support it so that India can compete with the many, many countries that have been working very successfully with bloggers for years.
Finally, I would just like to add that while it’s great to see India hosting big-name international travel influencers, the country should also be supporting home-grown talent. There are some very talented travel photographers and bloggers, etc., in India who have not had the support they need because India has lagged behind in developing quality online content.
Most of us working in India are often treated like amateurs, with brands and organizations mostly trying to “leverage” us rather than seeing us as professional partners. I hope and pray this will change soon as India wakes up to the need for top quality online digital storytelling. For a recent list of top travel bloggers in India, check out World Series 2016 from Thrillophilia. There are also many talented photographers, videographers, and Instagrammers.
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