March, 2019

Kumbh Mela 2019: the divine dip takes inbound holy splurge – Travel Trade Journal

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A confluence of initiatives, infrastructure and ofcourse, a lot of funds. The recently concluded Kumbh Mela at Prayagraj witnessed mystical tourist numbers and tons of projects attracting hatrick of Guinness World records with the largest congregation of pilgrims on earth. TTJ goes up-close with Kumbh…

 

According to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the Ardh Kumbh 2019 was expected to generate revenue of `1.2 lakh crore for the Uttar Pradesh. The hospitality sector would employ 2,50,000 people, airlines and airports around 1,50,000 and tour operators around 45,000. The employment numbers in ecotourism and medical tourism are being estimated at 85,000. The government organising the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, next door in Varanasi from January 21-23, during the initial days of Ardh Kumbh, also helped draw global attention to the congregation. About 3,000 Pravasi Bharatiya delegates, drawn from across the globe, got a glimpse of the ongoing Ardh Kumbh festival.

Politicians, Bollywood actors, foreign dignitaries attended the Kumbh in large numbers. Vijay Kiran Anand, Mela Adhikari, Prayagraj Mela Authority reveals, “24.05 crore devotees took holy dip in 49 days at Kumbh Mela and have made it to Guinness Book. This time the focus was on enhanced pilgrim experience. The Kumbh had major attraction beyond just the holy dip. There was a tent city for the first time. Apart from that, helicopter joyrides, laser shows and amusement parks were also set up for the travellers. This had shows by famous artists including Hema Malini. A convention hall for programmes called Ganga Pandal was built with a capacity of 10000 people.”

Mr Prateek Hira, President & CEO – Tornos India and Chapter Chairman IATO – UP, Uttrakhand and Bihar shares, It goes without saying that this year Kumbh was quite well organised and an experience to behold. Be it the stay options, security measures, activities and entertainment, all were commendable. In my opinion, Kumbh and even the annual festivity of Magh Mela in Prayagraj are surely a crowd puller and a booster dose of tourism of the state. This is one mega event that can be safely termed as tourism industry’s saviour, where domestic and inbound movements are concerned.

Of course we could not market it well aboard this time to bring in desired numbers that could have been possible otherwise, given the mammoth arrangements and international class facilities at this year’s Kumbh. In fact this year Kumbh was one showcase event that could have changed the foreign perception of Indian festivals and preparedness, but unfortunately our marketing efforts fell short.”

This Kumbh saw a huge number of youngsters too, who otherwise remained absent for such religious fairs or gatherings. All this in a way, is quite an encouraging trend and calls for marketers to reconsider their strategy and targets for the next.

Prateek comments, “Personally, I saw that Kumbh was divided into two major reasons of visit, one of course was religious and this generated numbers even if arrangements are not what they were, but another big reason that sprung up this time was of leisure visits, where people in very large numbers reached Prayagraj to experience what Kumbh was and to see the levels of arrangements and understand the topography. Another most important point that I would like to highlight is that, though it was not the main Kumbh (12 year period gap) but was actually Ardh Kumbh (six year gap), yet it drew crowd in very large numbers, only because its projection and positioning was correct in terms of marketing. I think we should learn this from our experience of this Kumbh and plan our next move of equally remarketing the annual Magh Mela, which is no less than a mini-Kumbh with same zeal and turning this into an annual event in Prayagraj.”

 

Prateek points out that such festivals and events need marketing efforts starting much earlier than they actually took it up. There was absolutely negligible international marketing of Kumbh anywhere, yet it gained substantially due to private efforts that tour operators did to promote this event. He tells, “I am quite sure if our government could have seen Kumbh as an attraction for foreign tourists and just in time planned the marketing efforts well, which sadly they did not, we could have increased foreign tourist arrivals during this period manifold.

We already know that this in an event that has all the capabilities to attract inbound and domestic tourists, so it will be sensible that we start its marketing three years in advance at all domestic and international trade fairs and then the state should have ‘focused event marketing’ from the year just before the Kumbh to make this a tourist event as well. We at the state and the center level missed out showcasing this megaevent

at international travel marts such as ITB, WTM, FITUR, TOP RESA, etc. Had it been marketed well abroad, we surely could have benefited much more in terms of inbound tourist arrivals only because of this event and could have opened up the fair as one reason to visit India.”

Dhun Cordo, Co-founder, TUTC shares, “Religious tourism is a huge opportunity in India. It attracts the spiritual types and those who come to witness the unique phenomena of the Kumbh. It also attracts hordes of media both domestic and international. All these elements throw up opportunities for a luxury service provider such as TUTC. We helped fill the gap by providing exquisite luxury accommodation that’s benchmarked with the best in the industry. All those who stayed with us were very appreciative of our services.”

There has been a demographic as well as cultural shift in the way Indians perceive religious tourism. Earlier, when people undertook a pilgrimage they gave less importance to comforts and were happy with basic facilities at the destination as they

felt the purpose of the pilgrimage would be defeated. Dhun explains, “However, India has moved ahead. The younger generation or those in their 30s and 40s have grown up with a better quality of life in their day-to-day living and this also extends when they travel on pilgrimage. They are unapologetic of availing luxury as they feel that it’s their way of life. Finally, it is also about experiences. Catering this, TUTC crafted some unique experiences in Kumbh such as photography excursions, boat ride to the sangam, walking tours of the akharas and interaction with sadhus and seers. Most importantly, the Indian travellers did not fuss about staying with us only on the Snan (bathing) days.

Many preferred coming to Kumbh on days that were not deemed as auspicious.”

Dhun believes that the private sector should be more involved in promoting the Kumbh at national and international fairs. She suggests, “The government did its bit to promote the Kumbh Mela. Finally, every Kumbh is a learning experience and the private sector and the government should work together to attract more foreign tourists to this spectacle.”

Talking about the how this Kumbh was different from the previous ones in terms of marketing campaigns to attract global footfall, she says, “This year it was more organised and this has to do with the lessons learnt from the previous Kumbh. New akharas added to the spirit of the event and they had anticipated a huge footfall. This enabled the authorities to handle the event more professionally.”