Leveraging digital technologies to promote cultural tourism

Written by Uma Ganesh | Updated: Jan 20 2014, 09:00am hrs
Tourism industry which is one of the key sectors of earnings for India generated R6.4 trillion and contributing 6.6% of the nations GDP in 2012 and is being promoted actively by the government to attract more tourists. Foreign tourist arrival in India touched 6.6 million mark in 2012 increasing by 5.4% over 20111 with foreign exchange earnings increasing by 21.8% over 2011. Although there has been a deep nosedive from the 9% incremental growth achieved in 2011 over 2010, it is still twice the world average as per the Indian Bureau of Immigration.

Indian tourism industry supported 39.5 million jobs, 7.7% of its total employment. Currently India is ranked as the 38th country in the world in terms of foreign tourist arrivals and 65th out of 144 countries in terms of international tourism competitiveness. The sector is predicted to grow at an average annual rate of 7.9% from 2013 to 2023 which would make India the third rank among countries with the fastest growing tourism industries over the next decade.

Indian tourism industry provides enormous opportunities for growth in all aspects of tourismbusiness, medical, sports, education and culture and heritage. The natural attraction and the potential to become a repeat source of earnings is significant with culture and heritage tourism as has been often mentioned. In this column we shall examine the key areas where digital technologies could contribute in making culture and heritage tourism not only a provider of livelihood options for millions and thus a star earner for the country but also enhance the value of brand India.

Promotion of culture and heritage tourism can be broadly divided into three phases. The first phase involves creating awareness and presenting adequate information to be able to generate interest amongst the public to create a desire to travel to the destinations being promoted. Over the years, a significant amount of effort has been invested towards this objective by the government, the hotels, travel agencies and other tourism related ventures through their websites, playing a key role in presenting the information. However there is a lot of room for improvement in promoting the not so popular but several valuable heritage sites with authentic background information packaged such that it creates curiosity and excitement amongst the potential visitors.

There is a huge lag of information between the researchers, the archaeologists and heritage enthusiasts which should be bridged and the sites should be presented with renewed excitement and freshness to the potential visitors. Hence linking videos, brief research synopsis and interviews with archaeologists or historians and connecting such content with tourism related websites would be immensely helpful to present additional options for heritage destinations. We need independent agencies to rank accommodation, food and guide facilities, travel routes available for each of the destinations, specially if they are in not so well known or frequented locations. Currently websites such as Trip Advisor, select state government websites and reviews by volunteers provide partial information but we require comprehensive, regularly updated and credible sources of information that would make the travel planning process smooth and reliable.

The second phase involves creating the aha experience during the visit. Except for some of the tourist guides, most people engaged with receiving tourists are not provided with specialised training that would make them competent to deliver the superior experience. Such training can be delivered through e-learning and remote tutoring. While most of our museums are not equipped with appropriate demonstration or presentation tools, in several of these museums where such facilities are provided, sadly they are not functional. Despite efforts put into training and certifying the guides in some places , regular upgradation of their knowledge and testing their levels of knowledge from time to time is not being done systematically.

This could be done by creating focussed web based communities, learning management systems and assessment engines designed to update its inventory powered by an effective knowledge management system that harnesses the frequently answered questions by visitors to various sites. Timely customer feedback could be collected immediately after the visit through appropriate apps and by tracking social media feeds and carrying out useful analytics thus using this feedback to equip the guides with most up to date information and also fine tuning the websites from time to time with fresh content.

The third phase involves ensuring continued affinity with the site/s visited and encouraging the visitors to keep their memories of the visit intact. Several international museums have been successful in encouraging repeat visit to the museums on the strength of unique themes and presenting hitherto little known dimensions of history through relevant artefacts and communication tools. For travellers from long distances, the continued connectedness with the sites visited could be achieved through free updates, engaging with the visitors through social media for their suggestions and ideas for enhancing the visitor experience or providing fee based new services such as special video lectures on new findings, new books or offers for visits to related sites. This would require maintenance of proper database and permissions of the visitors to send them information in future.

Nurturing cultural heritage has to be viewed as an integrated function involving communication, education and information. Apart from government funding for these initiatives, private sector funding and innovation would also be necessary. Promotion of the proud heritage and culture of the country is not to be viewed as the responsibility of the government alone, it is a collaborative effort of all the stakeholders. Digital technologies are best equipped to facilitate this collaboration. In order to realise the true potential of Brand India and its rich heritage, it would be meaningful to start by drawing up a strategic plan and thereafter engage with all stakeholders to become active change agents and share the excitement of incredible India with the rest of the world.

The writer is CEO, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company