India has a few cities worthy of becoming tourist destinations. Here's how Mumbai can become one.
THE importance of tourism to a country's economy has now been accepted worldwide. In fact, the tourism industry is growing at a crackling pace and generating millions of dollars in earnings to countries across the globe.
Most of the tourist destinations are well known. And most of them are Nature's gifts to mankind the pollution-free virgin beauty of New Zealand, the beaches of Bali and Hawaii, the Alpine and Himalayan mountain ranges, the wildlife of Kenya and Tanzania, the icy wonderland of Alaska, the fjords in the Scandinavian countries, the little islands of the Maldives and the coral reefs of Australia.
Then you have man-made tourist destinations of the historic kind such as Angkor Wat, the Taj Mahal, the great Pyramids of Giza and the fabulous ruins of Athens and the Greek islands. All these are gifts that many countries enjoy. To exploit them is up to each country. In India itself, blessed as we are with a fantastic diversity of natural wonders, we have been able to exploit only a few places. Kerala, Rajasthan, Goa and Agra would probably account for the lion's share of the Indian tourism industry, at the international level at least.
Against this backdrop of natural largesse, there are some cities and regions that have positioned themselves on the international tourist scenario as powerful magnets. I have great admiration for these places because they are the result of human creativity. How does one make a city an attractive tourist destination in itself?
Think about it: cities are places where you live in because you have to, work in because you have little choice and visit because you need to pass through or meet someone you need to. Cities are not natural tourist destinations.
And then you have cities like London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Singapore and Hong Kong that are able to stand in splendid isolation as beacons of tourist interest.
You will notice I have not included any Indian city in this category. Yet I feel that many of our cities have the basic ingredients that can make them tourist destinations. The same ingredients that exist in the cities I named.
All that is needed is to identify the probable attractions for the foreign tourist and package them imaginatively.
I will give a little example of what one could do with a grossly overcrowded city bursting at its seams, straddled by slums, and cursed by official apathy.
Mumbai has always prided itself as the Gateway of India. Unfortunately, it has remained just that, and that is a tragedy. People travel through Mumbai. They work in Mumbai, but no foreign tourist visits India to see Mumbai. I doubt any domestic tourist does.
I have always felt Mumbai can be turned into a great tourist attraction. It has history. Oh yes! It makes for great copy. This little set of malaria-infested islands that was palmed off as the dowry of a Portuguese princess to the British crown has been transformed into the city of gold that it is. It has ancient history as well, the Kanheri and Elephanta caves and the Banganga Lake at Walkeshwar. It has Bollywood, which is now an international asset. If people can flock to Universal Studios, and Hollywood, why can't they be taken on guided tours of Filmcity? Just think of the Malaysian tourists queuing up to watch an Indianised version of a studio tour which could possibly result in a glimpse of Shah Rukh Khan!
It has a great big green lung in the form of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, replete with lakes, wild leopards and all. People happily take buggy rides in little Central Park in New York. What about a nice Victoria ride through the Sanjay Gandhi National Park?
The Afghan Church, the Scottish Kirk, the vintage church that gives Churchgate its name, the Mount Mary Church and the
dargahsof Haji Ali and Maqdoom Shah Baba can be made to be of great interest to foreign tourists.
Esselworld has the makings of a mini Disney operation and the Marine Drive promenade, with its possibilities for boating and its row of art deco buildings, can be positioned as one of the most attractive parts of Mumbai.
Then of course you have the World Heritage building that houses the CST railway station and the Gothic structures of the Municipal Corporation, the High Court, the Rajabai Tower and the like which are a dream come true for an architecture and heritage buff.
This January, Mumbai has a series of events lined up that could really set the tone and pace to position it as a great tourist destination. The Mumbai Marathon, the Banganga festival and the big Mumbai Festival. The Mumbai Festival is being positioned as a 13-day extravaganza with shopping in malls going on till 3 a.m., a night flea bazaar at the Ballard Estate, discounts and prizes worth Rs 4.5 crore up for grabs, food festivals across the city, a children's festival, a youth festival, music concerts, a kite festival and even an autorickshaw drivers' rally.
I believe that these efforts, if properly publicised, could act as a major impetus to the objective of making Mumbai a tourist destination. One is sure the international media will take note at least in specialist portals and the word will spread. Along with this, it would really help if the other points mentioned earlier in this article are also taken up for promotion. A festival is a catalyst. Yet, if it has to be sustained and grown into a movement, the city's unique strengths need to be made into formal tourist attractions, and marketed in a coordinated manner. The city of gold could become a major source of tourist dollars.
(The author heads Canco Advertising.)