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Making a B-line for Gujarat
Amitabh Bachchan has sold everything in ads from hair oil to life insurance, but no one thought he would succeed in selling chief minister Narendra Modi's Gujarat as a hot tourist destination. In fact, until 2010, Gujarat was a case study in how a state can dissuade tourists from coming despite having some great tourism spots.
Gujarat has the longest coastline in India, dotted with pristine beaches. There's Kutch, a stark and bewildering desert that glimmers on a full moon night. There are wildlife sanctuaries with species found nowhere else in the world, like the Asiatic Lion and the Wild Ass. And there are Harappan and Gandhian heritage sites, along with places of pilgrimage that rank high with the faithful. Despite all this, Gujarat ranked 10th among all states in terms of tourist inflow in 2010.
Then came Bachchan as Gujarat's brand ambassador and his Khushboo Gujarat ki campaign. Within a year, the Gujarat tourism department was dealing with a new headache - of how to manage the sudden rush of tourists who wanted to 'breathe in a bit of Gujarat'.
The superstar even blogged about the success of the Gujarat campaign. Bachchan wrote: "Off again to Gujarat tomorrow and into the second phase of the tourism campaign, which I must admit has turned out to be a magnificent success. The growth rate in tourism in Gujarat has been bigger and larger than the Government of India's campaign Incredible India and that has made those of us who were involved in the working of it very proud. All those that criticised, all those that raised objectionable content against me, all laid to rest. . . "
The state tourism department released the first set of 60-second ad films in October 2010. In those, Bachchan took the audience on a tour of Kutch, the Gir forest and Somnath. The impact was remarkable. In Gir, the only home of the Asiatic Lion in the world, the number of tourists doubled in a year. It not only forced the forest officials to chalk out two new safari trails but also increase the number of permits for the sanctuary from 90 to 150 daily. While the number of tourists in Gir stood at 45, 834 between April and December 2009, it increased to 1, 11, 152 during the same period two years later - a growth of 142 per cent. In places like Bhuj, Dwarka, Somnath, Porbandar, the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad and the ruins of Dholavira, domestic tourism grew by 36 per cent in comparison with the previous year.
"One of the vital reasons for such growth is the campaign. Bachchan's advertisements have drawn in the maximum number of domestic tourists. We have even started displaying our advertisements and banners at international tourism fairs across the globe, " said Gujarat's principal secretary, tourism, Vipul Mittra. "Many of the known tourist destinations in India have reached saturation point. When the Khushboo Gujarat ki advertisements were aired, people realised the potential of Gujarat and rushed there. The state was an unexplored destination for many Indian tourists, " reasoned Manish Sharma, chairman of the Gujarat Association of Tour Operators.
Many tourists, however, say that if Gujarat wants the campaign to truly work, it will have to spruce up its act and avoid the kind of inconvenience that Avinash Sharma faced during Diwali last year. "We had to spend the nights in the car in Dwarka, Somnath and Sasan Gir as there were no hotel rooms available, " says Sharma, a businessman from Delhi. "When you promote your state like this you have to be ready for the rush as well. "
Madhya Pradesh Tourism's Hindustan ka dil dekho series of advertisements has worked to the state's advantage. The commercials make use of unusual themes like bioscopes and shadowgraphy to depict the cultural riches of the state. The visuals are set to catchy jingles. The results saw the tourist inflow to MP double between 2006 and 2008, the first two years of the commercials. Since 2011, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Jharkhand have also come up with their own campaigns.
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