If you’ve been following my travel adventures on Facebook or Twitter, you probably know by now which island country I’m heading to end of the month (oh yeah!). Incase you missed it, I’ll give it away with a hint: this island nation in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Africa, has the reputation of being stunningly beautiful. Got it?
In a discussion with a travel provider last week, I was told that if I intend to write about said island country for the Indian audience, I must follow an itinerary that would appeal to Indians. This itinerary, I was told, included a visit to a massive Shiva statue to “do pooja”, and this itinerary, I was told, would ditch skydiving because that’s just as good as sitting by the window seat as your flight lands along the azure blue seas, and twenty minutes of floating in mid air are not worth the money. I was further told that if I write about lesser known experiences, I’d be misleading my readers because travel agents wouldn’t be able to secure bookings for such experiences. I could go on, about the one hour of that conversation that left my curly hair all frizzy, but you get the gist. Needless to say, I politely declined their sponsorship.
I’ve never said it in so many words, but through everything I write on this blog, I hope to break typical Indian stereotypes of travelling, and offer alternatives. A trip to a new place doesn’t mean that every single moment should be spent sightseeing; you can observe and experience much more about the culture of a place sitting at a cafe, relaxing over a cup of the region’s local brew. Or you can shortlist exactly what interests you, rather than visit every historical site in the region when you’ve never cared enough to visit one in your own backyard. The point of visiting a different country is also to step out of the comfort zone of what you would typically do in India; have Indian food, visit an Indian temple, interact with Indian people. What’s the fun of travelling if you’re doing just what you would be doing back home?
To be honest, that conversation has put a lot into perspective for me. It has made me wonder if our outbound tourism industry is stuck in a vicious cycle, where tourism providers are selling what sells, and consumers are buying what is being sold. No names named, but the advertising of several national tourism boards in India reiterate what Indians have known about these countries before, and hence typically been visiting these countries for. It is no surprise that surveys done by these tourism boards would then highlight the same factors again and again, of what Indians find appealing in their countries. It is a vicious cycle, I tell you.
I am not giving up just yet. I will fight the stereotypes. Maybe some of you reading my posts will find something different to discover in another country, or in our own, or be inspired to adopt a different way to travel. Maybe you’ll pass the word along. And maybe a few years later, that something different will become the norm for atleast a handful of Indian travellers. Maybe someone else will step up to fight the stereotypes too. Maybe the tourism industry will gradually evolve, and maybe Indians will no longer take vacations that they need vacations to recover from.
What do you think? Are outbound travel providers and mass Indian travellers stuck in a vicious cycle? Or is that just how Indians like to travel?