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The success of Dekho Apna Desh is apparent from the number of tourists flocking Indian destinations such as Goa, Jaipur and Uttarakhand

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Dekho Apna Desh — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inspired campaign to get Indians to discover their own country — is among the first steps taken by the Indian government to promote domestic tourism. The multichannel campaign bodes well for the future of tourism in the country, which will increasingly focus on domestic travellers.

Sometime in early 2020, India’s Ministry of Tourism (MoT), guided by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy of promoting everything Indian—from handmade and artisans to destinations, launched a high-power campaign titled Dekho Apna Desh. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched Dekho Apna Desh
Dekho Apna Desh is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project.

The Prime Minister had appealed to Indians from the ramparts of Red Fort on August 15, 2019, to travel to at least 15 destinations by the year 2022 to promote domestic tourism in India, intended to enhance footfalls in places of tourist interest and help develop the local economy.

The campaign, Dekho Apna Desh, sought to focus attention on India’s latent travel potential and encourage Indians to explore their backyard by rewarding those who travel to 15 destinations within a year. The caveat: You had to travel outside your home state and discover destinations across the country.

What can be better than travelling? Travelling and getting rewarded for it!

So, this is how it works: You travel and submit your entries such as photographs, videos and narrative to the official website of the campaign, besides taking a pledge. 

And the pledge, as tweeted by MoT was, “Come, let’s be part of our Prime Minister’s vision of Dekho Apna Desh and take a pledge to visit at least 15 destinations by 2022 and dive deep into India’s art, culture, history and heritage.” A link to the page where you could take the pledge, follows the appeal.

Union Tourism Minister Prahlad Singh Patel
India’s Ministry of Tourism, headed by Prahlad Singh Patel, is spearheading the Dekho Apna Desh campaign

According to Union Tourism Minister Prahlad Singh Patel, “It was a unique initiative as the tourism ministry funds the expenses of tourists who visit 15 destinations in the country in a year and submit their photos on our website.”

And then the pandemic struck. India was lockdown, from which we are just emerging. Yet, MoT did not take its focus off the Prime Minister’s vision and continued to engage Indians through a webinar series with incredible destinations at its core: Delhi Destination: Discovery & AwarenessKolkata: A Confluence of CulturesThe Monuments of Mamallapuram: Stories Etched in StoneLadakh: Explore the UnexploredAwadh ki Sair and many more, getting various stakeholders from the travel and hospitality industries on board. 

As travel opens and we see more Indians travelling — on staycations and long-stay holidays to mountains and beach getaways, forests and heritage destinations — the campaign, and its constant focus on promoting various destinations and their stakeholders via webinars and social media, has paid off.

While we focus on how well Dubai and Maldives have done in attracting tourists, particularly from India, there is no getting away from the fact that several Indian destinations — Goa, Jaipur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, parts of the northeast, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Rishikesh, and many more —are completely sold out for months.

“The Prime Minister asked us to concentrate on Dekho Apna Desh a year ago, to encourage every Indian to travel to at least 15 destinations in the country. The times are such that Indians will travel within the country in 2021, and this campaign has helped promote India to its citizens. 2021 will be the year of Dekho Apna Desh.”

According to Patel, a total of 48 webinars were held from April 14 to August 15 and were well-received by the travel industry, students and the general public. “The webinars have seen participation from over 60 countries, other than India, and we have had over 2.30 lakh participants.” MoT is leveraging social media to have a conversation with travellers and build a bond which extends beyond marketing the destinations.

The success of Dekho Apna Desh is apparent. With domestic flights opening up, thanks to close collaboration between the civil aviation ministry and MoT, more people are travelling. The two ministers have discussed refund policies, flight plans, helicopter services and the use of airports at Khajuraho, Imphal and Dehradun for international flights. 

Additional Secretary – Tourism Rupinder Brar
Additional Director General – Ministry of Tourism, Rupinder Brar says the ministry is curating a blackbook of 52 short-distance destinations that Indians can travel to.

Additional Director General – Ministry of Tourism, Rupinder Brar, “We thought about curating and showcasing the beautiful destinations that people can travel to from home. India is diverse and there are so many places Indians have not travelled to. We are trying to build a narrative around the various experiences of India and make the country accessible to everyone.”

Plans are afoot to create a ready reckoner of hidden gems in all states. This is a period to fire the spirit of innovations with a focus on destinations that are naturally social-distancing friendly. 

The ministry is working on creating 52 short-distance overnight itineraries. These will be out on the Incredible India website. There will be print calendars, mobiles applications and promotional material made in collaboration with important organisations and local chapters associated with tourism. The use of social media to engage audiences and webinars continue. Reaching out to children and women, by firing their imagination so that they are motivated to travel, is seen as the way to make an inroad into families.

For the hospitality sector, especially the small units, the government is working with the Quality Council of India to provide a certification under the SAATHI initiative. The Dekho Apna Desh program —showcased on a digital platform and targeted towards the domestic tourism segment — has been successful beyond expectation says, Meenakshi Sharma, Director General, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, “because it was charted by the industry partners”. 

That the various initiatives, beginning with Prime Minister Modi’s pet project, Dekho Apna Desh, have paid off is obvious from the figures put out by Vistara Airline, which currently operates 11x weekly flights between Goa and Mumbai and 9x weekly flights between Goa and Delhi. The airline’s Chief Commercial Officer, Vinod Kannan, believes that there has been increasing demand for destinations like Goa, because of the way MoT and civil aviation ministries have helped open up the airspace.

Goa Dekho Apna Desh
Goa has seen a 74% jump in bookings in December 2020. 

According to Aloke Bajpai, CEO and Founder of ixigo, an online flight, train, bus and hotel booking website, tourists from Delhi and Mumbai have been flocking to Goa right since November and the trend continues. “There is a lot of enthusiasm for travelling within India, to destinations such as Goa, Jaipur and the mountains. MoT’s constant engagement with Indians through webinars and social media has helped.”

The Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board has restarted adventure tourism. Adventure sports such as water sports, trekking, mountaineering, aero sports, and camping have resumed for inbound tourists.

Dilip Jawalkar, Secretary, Tourism, Government of Uttarakhand, says, “Dekho Apna Desh had put a huge focus on Uttarakhand and adventure tourism, which has made a major contribution in the overall tourism industry of the state. We are confident that the reopening of adventure activities will benefit the state tourism industry. We expect full cooperation from all the stakeholders. We look forward to working with them as a team to ensure the effective implementation of rules and guidelines for controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the state.”

IHCL’s MD & CEO Puneet Chhatwal
IHCL’s MD & CEO Puneet Chhatwal says the success of Indian tourism would depend on close collaboration between the government and travel and hospitality industries stakeholders.

India’s travel industry, in the absence of international tourists, is coasting on Indians travelling, and hoteliers believe campaigns such as Dekho Apna Desh “bring into focus the hidden gems across India”.

IHCL’s MD & CEO Puneet Chhatwal says, “In India, we have a very strong domestic tourism market and a consumer base that enjoys travelling. Tourism contributes to approximately 9% of our GDP and we are optimistic that domestic business will be a key factor in the industry’s recovery. The domestic contribution is extremely important; it’s more than 85% of our business.” 

The fact that the Indian government is encouraging the country to rediscover the country’s culture and heritage through travel surely helps in getting more interested and revealing the beauty of the country to those who would have otherwise holidayed abroad.

Indian tourists approximately spend $28 billion on international tourism, which, if spent within the country, can change the face of the Indian travel industry. According to Patel, the growing influence of tourism as an economic powerhouse and its potential as a tool of development is irrefutable. “Not only does the tourism sector spearhead growth, but it also improves the quality of people’s lives with its capacity to create large-scale employment of diverse kinds. It supports environmental protection, it champions diverse cultural heritage and it strengthens peace in the world.”

In the post-COVID world, travellers are searching for the offbeat, unexplored destinations. “Some of the popular ways to travel before the outbreak such as group tours and activities have hit a pause,” says Deep Kalra of MakeMyTrip. “People prefer travelling to unexplored tourist spots. The popularity of private eco and nature tours has among risen for young travellers.” Rightly so, MoT is focusing on a ‘Dekho Apna Desh’ campaign to promote the diversity of domestic tourism in India right now. 

Saurabh Rai
Saurabh Rai, Executive Vice President – South & South East Asia, Middle East, Africa & Australasia-Preferred Hotels & Resorts says the messaging from the Indian government and the hospitality industry has to be right to boot confidence.

Saurabh Rai, Executive Vice President – South & South East Asia, Middle East, Africa & Australasia-Preferred Hotels & Resorts, adds, “The success of the campaign will be directly linked to how the central and state tourism boards (along with hotel and retail segments) can build and deliver messaging that invites trust on their levels of health, hygiene and sanitation standards. The campaign is the step in the right direction to sell India to Indians.”

Neeraj Govil, Senior Vice President, South Asia, Marriott International says destination marketing, supported by destination management, will lead to a revival of tourism in India. 

The job of destination marketing is being done by MoT through its campaign Dekho Apna Desh. “We have to remember that, for the near term, it’s not going to be about volumes, but about a higher quality of ticket and for that destination management by local tourism boards, hoteliers and other stakeholders are equally important,” says Neeraj Govil, Senior Vice President, South Asia, Marriott International

road journey india
Travellers are exploring their neighbourhood attractions through self-drive holidays. 

Day trips and weekend travel are gaining popularity. Patel contends, “The change brought about by the pandemic has taught the tourism industry the need to enable training and develop programmes for its employees to help them innovate and organise, to pioneer a new and better model of business which, in the future, will be able to withstand any crisis.”

Ultimately, we need a bold plan to drive the aspiration quotient of travelling within India, making it as cool, if not cooler, than going abroad, contends Aradhana Khowala, Founder & CEO, Aptamind Partners, an independent, specialist strategic advisory firm that focuses on luxury lifestyle investments in the travel, tourism and hospitality industry.

And that is only possible by fostering a culture of collaboration between the government and private stakeholders, believes Chhatwal. Dekho Apna Desh is one of the first steps taken by the Indian government to promote domestic tourism and the success of the multichannel campaign bodes well for the future of tourism in the country, which will increasingly focus on domestic travellers.

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