It was on 2nd June 2014, at the stroke of midnight, that the princely state of Andhra Pradesh, was divided into two; a new state of Telengana was created. Away went the jewels in the crown, such as capital city of Hyderabad and the Char-minar, the Hussein Sagar Lake and the proverbial Hyderabadi Biryani as well…

Imagine the crisis – the name is STILL Andhra Pradesh, but you have a mutated strip of landmass minus the smell, sights & sounds that had been its calling card for decades…

The residual Andhra Pradesh, a narrow strip of land, facing the Bay of Bengal, cried silently, seeking its (lost) identity; who is this new Andhra Pradesh? Does it have anything to offer travellers or its prospective new citizens?

The tourism office of Andhra Pradesh, guided by an external consultant, agreed to adopt market savvy marketing communication techniques. In March 2017, a mystery marketing strategy was unveiled. To counter the negative vibe in the tourism market, APTA decided to launch a counter communication that challenged travellers and the trade intermediaries alike. How would you know what’s on offer, if you wouldn’t come?

At ITB Berlin, in 2017, “Andhra Pradesh – India’s Best Kept Secret” was launched. This campaign was complemented with the highest award at the ITB & was the first INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION/AWARD for the tourism office of Andhra Pradesh. Enquiries jumped! The winds of change were beginning to blow in…

Unlike all the state tourism boards of India, in AP, it was decided, a portfolio of destinations, each as a stand-alone product, like an FMCG company, will be developed and marketed; instead of a single slogan dishing out the entire state’s tourism that everybody does.

Experience and nothing else, will be cultivated, consolidated & marketed. After all, a traveller seeks stories.

“Lets Vizag” was the first step in this portfolio; in India, when you talk beaches, people invariably say Goa; some add Andamans. It was decided to combat the Goa story with Vizag’s beaches & the hill stations of Araku, as a combo offer. And it worked!! The “Let’s Vizag” multi city print advertising was aimed at five cities (no Bombay, by the way!) that had air connectivity to Vizag. The creative was classy and not typical sarkari vigyapan! Offers from star hoteliers, unseen and unheard before, were part of this limited period campaign.

Result? All private hotels, in the star category, were sold out. Airlines reported full capacity bookings.

“Lets Vizag” had hit a button like nobody’s business! The story of a family, on a pristine beach of forty nine kilometres, where you can run, play, swim, laze, scuba dive, discover a hilly trail too, paid off.

The next step was the adoption of destination buckets and their custom promotion. Nobody in India, barring a handful, knew of Araku. 120km away from the beaches of Vizag, is this lovely hill station. Its coffee is sold by Anand Mahindra’s office, as a lifestyle beverage, in Paris!

So, what did we do?! The Araku Balloon Festival was launched as a show and tell strategy to promote the unheard hill station.

Foreign balloonists flying over the postcard beautiful Araku splashed all over the country. Unbelievably, ONE HUNDRED & FORTY FOUR stories were published in thirty two cities of India in 4 weeks! Imagine the sheer value of this coverage! Imagine the multiplier effect of search online by the word A-R-A-K-U!!

Andhra Pradesh Tourism was kicking! H-A-R-D!!

If “Lets Vizag” was aimed at the young couple, young parents, “Aashta” was aimed at the spiritual traveller. Discover your soul, your Lord, be it at the temple at Tirupati or the ancient Buddhist monasteries. A segmented outreach program was developed aimed at the global Buddhist followers of Sri Lanka, China, Japan, Taiwan and a separate plan for the Hindus, pushing forth Tirupati and its adjoining temples. “Aastha” ensured the trains were full & the Buddhist travellers were welcomed with alliances with national carriers, like Air Lanka*.

Any DMO (Destination Marketing Office), be it national or a state, always tries to pick a unique flavour that best describes the reason to choose it over others. In India, domestic travel, within the country is huge. Overseas travellers are invariably Indians returning home for their annual holiday or foreigners keen to discover the “incredible India”. India ranks rather low on the global tourism map. If state tourism boards of India push their own story strongly, the share of the dollar flowing in, invariably increases; Kerala, Rajasthan, Goa & Chennai walk away with 86% of the foreign travellers and their money! Imagine twenty five other states of India battling for a penny out of the remaining 14%! Pittance is an understatement!

The “Andhra Pradesh – India’s Best Kept Secret” was coined for the foreign markets. Vizag, with its beaches and hills, Buddhism & heritage, were categorically communicated into split markets via international trade shows in hand-picked countries. As part of the elaborate plan, it was decided to promote Andhra Pradesh via its tastes and smells. Tourism, is first an enquiry; the enquiry, if mysterious and arousing, creates a sell by a new footfall.

If the above hypothesis is true or not, was tested with a unique program, with Spicejet, as a partner airline. More than fifty flights into Vizag, Vijaywada, Tirupati and nearby Hyderabad daily. An on-board promotion was executed which perhaps is a fine example of experiential marketing – Araku coffee was distributed on-board, absolutely free, with a scratch card, which was a sniffer paper, that gave you a smell of Araku coffee and a chance to win a family holiday to Araku, in the summer holidays of 2018. All of this was preceded with a thirty second audio on Araku by the airhostess. Result? Online enquiries jumped disproportionately; Araku hotels were booked to the fullest and not a penny was spent on expensive mass media advertising! Imagine 57 flights for sixty days! Imagine the power to reach the story to prospects onboard a boring flight with the sniff and smell of a coffee! Indeed a breakthrough!

The state tourism inward footfall, domestic and overseas put together was ranked at number fifteen all India, in 2015-16. The effort and exercise of segmented marketing, unique product creations and innovative communications pushed it up to number five in two years! You can very well imagine the implication of this on the state’s GDP.

Finally, that’s what matters!

The road ahead is clear; you gotta drive with renewed energy what works for you and find newer ways to tell the unique story to more & more prospects. It’s important to bear in mind, a picture, a story by a real traveller can do magic to any tourism promotion. That’s exactly what needs to be pushed.

The Corona Times has definitely hit inward travel, not just of AP but everywhere; we got to look at family holidays, driving holidays and uncluttered holidays, all within the domestic segment. Going back to the nearby cities that have always been our biggest feeder markets is a must. The challenge is, what new story do you tell them? What new excitement do you excite them with?

It’s cooking. When the time is right, we will unveil them. Until then, don’t pack your bags yet!

(KAUSHIK MUKHERJI, Lead Consultant, Ministry of Tourism, Andhra Pradesh, 2016-19)