If certain reports are to be believed, then ITC and GMR are in the race for adopting the Taj Mahal, in quick succession to the Red Fort in Delhi being awarded to a corporate patron. Typical to modern India, many are deeply outraged by this seeming act of accession, this time to corporate and not political empires, without fully understanding the positivity of this action. Finally, our world-class monuments will be blessed with world-class infrastructure, making us genuinely competitive for the mainstream global traveller who is attracted by our heritage but appalled by the upkeep.
Anybody who has visited Taj Mahal recently will vouch for the miserable condition of the environment, dirty sidewalks in tandem with jail-like toilets and, of course, a relentless stream of rowdy tourists. The same is true for most parts of India with Jaipur being an occasional exception, a continuing culture of the royal family perhaps responsible for the remarkable decorum. It is true that only when private money and management are applied, experiences in India replicate or surpass the quality of foreign lands, be it hotels or even airports or passport offices under the auspices of public-private partnership. Perhaps justifiably, the priority of any purely state-driven endeavour is the establishment of a workable status quo for the common man, burdened as we are by our third-world limitations. A very good reason why the cash cows of the tourist trade, our precious monuments, must come under the ambit of partial operational privatisation, delegation of key experiential areas vital to making heritage comfortable.
The naysayer brigade seems to be upset by irrational emotional aspects, an apparent abdication of national pride or the commercialisation of our treasures. By the first logic, there should be even greater fury at the GMR-GVK involvement with our airports, intrinsic to national security and not just pride or the entire telecommunications infrastructure being seconded to foreign, even Chinese, companies. In either case, the justification is the superior skillset, which is equally the consideration for the monuments, private organisations possessing the funds and the ability to offer world-class tourist facilities. As a result, more people will be attracted, enriching our coffers and thus leading to positive outcomes for all stakeholders.
On commercialisation, it is important to be aesthetically sensitive and perhaps the awarding of ‘Title Branding’ is an inappropriate step. Instead, the corporation should have been given in-venue branding in abundance as well as PR bragging rights, including the ability to advertise in mass media and projection in all commercial activities. However, instead of ‘Dalmia Bharat Red Fort’ being the accepted nomenclature like a metro station, the correct template should be a standardised format like ‘Proud to Partner’ or ‘Experience Partner’ or even ‘Tourism Partner’, to make the connection appropriate and smart. The logo, as mentioned earlier, could appear in all collaterals and signages, including brochures, tickets and the audio-visual shows. In my assessment, the main cause of this current media uprising is the apparent re-branding of the monument, ill-advised as a benefit while the intent is spectacular.
In fact, the mandate of association could be extended to many more meaningful aspects; strategic, sustainable and profitable. A key aspect is the projection of the monument in the digital space, through attractive audio-visual interactive formats that are truly invitational as well as creating coffee-table literature and artist impressions that amplify the heritage dimension of this monument. In a larger sense applying modern rules of marketing to ensure that such outstanding products deserve their truest worth in the world without having to cling on to mere heritage cues. In an inverse metaphor, they can be considered the original versions of heritage hotels, we surely cannot expect a Rambagh Palace quality of maintenance for a mass attraction but that can surely be the aspirational benchmark, including a multi-tiered admission policy that allows varying degrees of amenities for graded pricing. Exactly like the Indian Railways for want of a more relevant metaphor, a democratic state institution, where every citizen can fairly earn her rightful berth. As an ultimate destination, every monument must develop its unique P&L to make it profitable in association with the patron, with an approach comparable to the turning around of under-performing public-sector undertakings.
Our monuments have a lot to gain through the association with corporate houses, most importantly converting them to world-class experiences that truly do justice to their remarkable worth. So that our annual inflow of inbound tourists surpasses the paltry figure of 5 million and we can provide better facilities for the emerging domestic traveller as well. If this decade of Taj Mahal is brought to you by ITC, then the experience and not just the architecture will make us truly proud.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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