Two years ago,Amitabh Bachchan stepped into the shoes of a discerning traveller to explore Gujarat. Having been signed on as the states brand ambassador,he travelled through the Gir forest,Rann of Kutch,Somnath Temple and Mandvis Vijayvilas Palace. He soaked in the sights and sounds of the state,flew kites with a local family and even rode a motor-rickshaw as part of the colourful Khushboo Gujarat Ki campaign,aimed at boosting the states tourism.
Gujarat has since witnessed nearly a 15 per cent annual rise in the number of tourists. This year,the numbers are slated to cross two crore after a latest campaign featuring the actor goes on air. We needed a travelogue-style ad for Gujarat that could demonstrate what it has to offer and Mr Bachchans personality suited that requirement, explains Abhijit Avasthi,National Creative Director,Ogilvy India,the agency that designed the campaign.
West Bengal Chief Minister,Mamata Banerjee,was hoping for a similar boost to her states tourism when she recently roped in actor Shah Rukh Khan as brand ambassador. The actors international appeal is expected to bring in NRIs as well as foreign tourists.
Tourism campaigns are perhaps following a trend that has been long-established by Indian marketing gurus make celebrities,especially Bollywood actors,promote every possible product and service. In 2008,actor Aamir Khan stepped in as the brand ambassador of the Incredible India campaign,urging Indians to care for the countrys historical treasures and treat tourists as their personal guests through the Atithi Devo Bhava campaign.
Among the lesser-known brand ambassadors are actor Prachi Desai,who represents Goa Tourism,and Hema Malini,the face of Uttarakhands Sparsh Ganga campaign that is aimed at creating awareness about the river. Badminton champion Saina Nehwal was signed on in 2010 by Andhra Pradesh whereas Preity Zinta is the only celebrity who belongs to the state that she represents,Himachal Pradesh.
But can the celebrities influence the tourist flow of the states they represent? Amitabh Kant,who spearheaded the Incredible India campaign,explains the countrys 750 million people-strong domestic market has a massive potential to boost tourism. Indians are a movie-loving people and connect with celebrities instantly. Success of the Incredible India campaign featuring Aamir Khan is a proof of that, adds Kant,who was then the joint secretary under the Union Ministry of Tourism.
However,adman V Sunil,former creative director,O&M,who headed the team that created the first Incredible India campaign in 2002,has a different take on celebrity ambassadors. Citing the example of Keralas successful tourism campaigns without celebrity endorsement,he says,Using celebrities to sell anything is a lazy solution,especially selling tourism. Sunil,who now works with Weiden+Kennedy,believes that since celebrities endorse multiple brands,their initiatives for tourism may not stand out.
But Kant,who worked with Sunil on Incredible India,explains that certain states,such as Kerala and Rajasthan,are already popular with local and international tourists. Other states such as West Bengal and Bihar can use celebrities to gain attention, he says. It also helps that these celebrities mostly do not charge for the endorsement.
Avasthi seconds Kant,pointing out that his agency was involved in creating both Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh tourism campaigns and the latter is an animation-style campaign,without any popular face. It is all about the concept and the need of the campaign. When we took on MP tourism,it was already the 16th most-visited state people were already aware what it has to offer, he says. The campaign,however,further boosted the business,escalating the states position to fifth.
Inspite of the several celebrity-centric tourism campaigns,the ones featuring Bachchan and Aamir Khan remain the only prominent ones. The Uttarakhand government had to face criticism for signing on Malini as the face of sacred Ganga. Nehwal and Desai have not even shot for a single ad yet. But then,name-dropping certainly has its benefits.