EDITORIAL

Making Assam Truly Awesome in Global Tourism

Ashutosh Pandey
(The author is co-founder of Mumbai-based PRaddictability Media Sciences. He can be reached at ashutosh@praddictability.com)

In his recent budget speech, Assam Tourism and Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma announced that close to 38,000 foreign tourists had entered the State between April 2016 and October 2017 – an increase of around 25 per cent over the corresponding one-year period. Indeed, there has been a marked increase in tourist inflow in the light of recent push by the government to brand the State as a unique tourist destination. Though the effort of the government and the resultant growth numbers looks impressive, believe me this is just a tip of the iceberg and there is enough latent value proposition to capitalize on the “Awesome Assam” experience.
To start off, the travel and tourism sector as a whole is witnessing fabulous growth across India and international arena.There has been a global surge in nature tourism, especially around biodiversity hotspots. To get a clearer picture, let us look at the travel and tourism sector of other destinations with offerings similar to that of Assam. Serengeti National Park in Tanzania is overwhelmed by tourist inflows. A total of 3,724 aircraft landed in Serengeti between January and September in 2017. The flow of tourists has been steady and not just confined to seasonal trends as in the past.
Now, you don’t have to be an Ian Wright or a travel expert of that repute to make out that the offerings of Kaziranga National Park are on a par, if not better, as compared to its Tanzanian counterpart. But the type of premium the African destination commands is unmatched. At this stage, comparing the two in terms of premiumness will be like correlating French Rivera with Bali.
From big game animals like one-horned rhinoceros, tiger, wild water buffalos etc, to unique biodiversity – large grasslands, migratory birds and high-end trees – Kazaringa has the potential to attract prime tourists who would typically spend thousands of dollars in safaris to spot wild animals in their natural habitat.
Apart from wildlife sanctuaries, Assam can be also developed as the go-to destination for cultural tourism and the star attraction here can be Majuli, the nerve centre of neo-Vaishnavite culture. So, if a global cultural tourist has already ticked off Istanbul or Jerusalem, then why should this river island too not feature in his/her itinerary as the next frontier?
Closer home, Kerala recorded close to a million foreign tourist entries this year. Natural trails and “tea tourism” has been among the key selling points for them. Foreign exchange from the tourism sector of the State went up by 8.29 per cent to Rs 8,392.11 crore in 2017 as compared to the figures of 2016. 
Kerala discovered the magic of tourism and its ability to transform the economy way back in the 1990s. Aided by positive word of mouth of Keralites across the globe and quick adaptation of technology, Kerala is indeed reaping rich dividends from travel and hospitality sector.
Social influencers like writers and artists play a big role in changing perceptions. Jaipur Literature Festival, for example, has caught the attention of the global readers community and has helped Rajasthan get quality tourist footfalls, even during the post-holiday slag season. We feel there is no reason why a State like Assam with a comparatively stronger “reading” culture than its Northern India counterpart cannot replicate a similar feat.
A solid and consistent 360-degree communication campaigns were the recipes for the mind-boggling success of tourism in Kerala as well as other Indian States like Gujarat and Rajasthan. Though the latest “Awesome Assam” campaign is a step in the right direction, it still relies on periodic event-based media bursts and the age-old “carpet-bombing” approach in traditional media (print, TV, hoardings, etc).
Making Bollywood (now Hollywood) star Priyanka Chopra the brand ambassador has definitely contributed in increasing awareness about Assam tourism. But is it giving a potential far-off tourist even a hint of the diverse experience the State has to offer? We seriously doubt. And this is where digital media comes into play, which has undoubtedly emerged as the “deciding factor” when it comes to destination finalisation by tourists.
An exciting Instagram post, for example, can rival a mainline ad campaign when it comes to the number of impressions that can directly lead to bookings, and that too at a fraction of the cost one would have ended up spending up on mainstream advertising. Similarly, YouTube and several other social and digital platforms can be used to raise awareness and create a solid brand around Assam’s tourist endowments.  On the new-age media, there is a real chance to reach out and engage with potential visitors who are actually planning their next holiday.
So, a paradigm shift in promotional strategies is required which calls for greater focus on new-age media. “Go digital” is the clarion call that has the potential of making “Awesome Assam” truly awesome on the global tourism stage.