Just word of mouth will not suffice any more
A quaint tourist festival concluded recently at Temi Tea Estate. Except the invited guests, their respective entourages and the handful who caught the news in local rags, it is unlikely that too many others knew of it or made the time to visit. Admittedly, there was a more handsome attendance this year, but nothing close to what a Tea & Cherry fest has potential for. There used to be a music fest of huge potential hosted in Mangan for some years until that too fell silent. The Maghe Mela attraction has lost its sheen even before it was leveraged for the tourism prospects it carried. The winter fest in Gangtok is so erratic that no one appears to even bother to promote it even among locals. Sikkim is now an Organic State for all intents and purposes, but this USP has still not been dovetailed into its introduction as a tourist destination. It should be obvious by now that left to the babus, Sikkim will continue to move from event to event, lacking the coherence and cohesion required to launch a collaborative promotion.
Tourism is all about promotion, which, in today’s information-age, translates as advertisements. Without promotion in the right places, conveying the right message, tourism potential will remain but a tantalising prospect of the boom that could have been. Of course word of mouth plays a role in promoting a destination and flawless services go a long way in establishing tourism credentials, but for these factors to kick in, one needs the right promotion. More tourists land in Malaysia than the flights bring into India. We obviously offer a much more varied experience, and yet, even tiny Malaysia beats us with the “Truly Asia” slogan [of much older vintage than the Incredible India tag line]. Tourism is booming in Malaysia, and if anything, the destination’s increasing popularity has triggered even more aggressive advertising across all mediums, from television channels to websites to newspapers to magazines to Facebook to wherever it is that a prospective visitor might look. They have obviously recognised the importance of promotion.
Promotion and planning have however been consistently ignored by Sikkim, most noticeable so in the tourism sector. Yes, brand ambassadors have been roped in, but that is not enough in itself. When was the last time you saw a slick spot on TV, or a captivating spread in a magazine or newspaper or a sponsored message popping up on your Facebook feed tempting a prospective audience with a holiday in Sikkim? The State is lucky that enough people are smitten by the land and its people to keep arrivals high, save the hiccup of neighbourhood troubles.
Tourism has grown in the State despite a shoddy and extremely unprofessional approach to promotion. An increasing number of Sikkimese are investing in the hospitality industry, a huge number converting residential buildings into hotels. The number of destinations has not increased by much in the recent past, so one is essentially looking at selling the same “points”. What this means is that repeat-visitors will soon start tiring out and to ensure that businesses do not fail and the target numbers are achieved, Sikkim will need to promote itself much better, much more.