Focus on Experiences
The eastern state of West Bengal has one of the most diversified offers in tourism products and the state is now focusing on experiential tourism. Aggressive promotions and focus on international markets also help, says Bose.
As part of West Bengal Tourism’s rebranding, what are your strategies?
West Bengal Tourism has revealed its new brand identity, Experience Bengal. With the new government in power over the last five years, there was an overall effort in the entire tourism department to give it a makeover. West Bengal Tourism is being more visible in domestic and international arena nowadays. Due to its continuous aggressive campaign and innovative presentations, West Bengal is in the league of front runners.
To compete in domestic and international markets, West Bengal Tourism appointed Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) to brainstorm and come up with something very unique. O&M is the agency that has many successful campaign feathers in their hat namely Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Sri Lanka, Bhutan etc. Not only that, a host of tourism specialists who promote Bengal in the international market also came on board to advise on the matter. The new logo will be used in all promotional and marketing collaterals henceforth.
From the old identity of West Bengal Tourism, the word ‘Beautiful’ has been replaced with ‘Experience’. We feel it would be incorrect to identify West Bengal only with its places of attractions. Rather, visiting West Bengal is a total experience for any traveller. Along with mountains, forests and sea, the experience includes quintessential Bengali culture, cuisine, religion, handicraft, history and lifestyle. All these are nowadays considered essential parts of modern experiential tourism worldwide. This is a very important strategic change. Secondly, the way word Bengal is designed, shows how West Bengal Tourism wants to project its vision of heritage, unique natural beauty, cultural plurality and sustainable development.
The use of the tagline, ‘The sweetest part of India’ is not only to remind Bengal’s fame for sweets, but to highlight the humility and sweetness of the people. Friendliness and hospitality of the Bengalis are going to be the big USPs (Unique Selling Point) of the overall Bengal experience in the coming days.
What are the key products and experiences that you offer? And what are the new circuits that you are launching?
West Bengal is probably the only state in India that can provide extremes in experiences, from the snow-capped peaks of Himalayas to the unique mangrove ecosystem of the Sunderbans, historical monuments of Murshidabad to the exquisite terracotta work on the temples of Bishnupur, lush green forests and wild life of the Dooars to the serene and pleasant beaches of Digha and Bakkhali, glimpses of colonial architecture in the trade settlements along the river Ganges and to top it all Kolkata, the megacity, a blend of tradition and modernity. Keeping in view the geographical diversity of the state, six primary tourist circuits have been identified, with a focus on tourism products that range from nature & wildlife, heritage, rural to adventure and cruises.
We are also developing a new coastal circuit along the coast of Digha, Mandarmoni, Sankarpur, Tajpur and stretching upto Bakkhali, Henry island and Frasergunj.
What was the tourist footfall in the last fiscal? How much of this was international tourism?
In 2015, West Bengal received a total of 71.7 million tourists, of which 70.2 million were domestic and the rest, about 1.49 million were foreign guests. There has been quantum jump of 42 pc over the previous year.
Which are your key international markets?
South East Asian countries form one of the key international markets due to the geographical proximity and the Buddhist connection. Indian Museum in Kolkata houses some of the most important relics of Lord Buddha, which are a major draw for tourists from South East Asia and Sri Lanka. Also there is an immense potential for tourist inflow from China since one direct flight operates daily from Kunming to Kolkata. Amongst the Europeans countries, UK, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Poland are the potential markets. Since the last few years West Bengal tourism has been participating in the two major travel events in Europe, namely, ITB Berlin and WTM, London to make its presence felt. Also television campaign through Euronews and Discovery Network in 2014-15 has helped the state to reach the target audience to some extent.
Which strategies set you apart from other Indian states? What are the challenges that you face in promoting West Bengal as tourism destination?
The department has planned a 360 degree media campaign for 2016-17 in the domestic sector to reach to the target group. The campaign will be on the traditional mediums like television, radio, print and outdoor. It will also be on digital platforms and social media.We have developed a mobile app, which will be launched very shortly. This is intended for the tech savvy generation who are more at ease with mobile than the traditional mediums. We have also nominated famous actor Shahrukh Khan as our brand ambassador, which will give an edge to the campaign.
In terms of challenges, West Bengal, when compared to Gujarat , MP and Kerala, is a new kid on the block in terms of promotion and publicity of its products in the international and domestic market. The challenge is to establish its new brand “Experience Bengal-the sweetest part of India” firmly in the domestic market through a sustained campaign and to carve out a niche for itself. This requires identification of the right market and target group, efficient media planning and effective implementation of the plan.
What is the budget for this fiscal? In terms of infrastructure, how prepared is West Bengal to receive both International and domestic tourists?
Over the years the department has seen phenomenal increase in the budget , from a meagre EUR 5 million in 2010- 11 to EUR 34 million in 2015-16. It is expected that there will be a further escalation in the budgetary provision in 2016-17, which in turn will give a big boost to the tourism industry of the state.
In terms of infrastructure, the condition of the roads connecting major tourist destinations in the state has improved remarkably over the last few years. We lay special emphasis on last mile connectivity and building up of wayside amenities along the roads to facilitate smooth movement of the tourists. Many new hotels are coming up to meet the increased demands. West Bengal is considered one of the safest states in the country in terms of law and order. Almost all the major destinations are well connected with either roadways or railways. A new airport has come up in Andal near Durgapur. Helicopter services have been introduced for movement of tourists to some of the destinations.