Brand Ambassador for Assam- Do we need one?

Do we need a Brand Ambassador for Assam?

The debate has started on who should have been the Brand Ambassador for Assam. But, before venturing into the merits and demerits of any particular celebrity, we should deliberate on a few pertinent issues confronting the tourism sector in Assam, most notably the absence of a comprehensive road map for tourism development.

Comprehensive tourism road map before Brand Ambassador

Before engaging a Brand Ambassador for Assam, we should prepare a tourism road map with defined short, medium and long-term goals to lay the foundation for comprehensive and sustainable tourism development in the state.

The road map should, among other things, address the following:

Listing of destinations before a brand ambassador for Assam

First, the tourism department should audit the destinations to create an inventory of existing infrastructure, accommodation and tourism services, visitor management, accessibility, environment, sustainability, quality of public roads, health care facilities, human resources and brand awareness. Additionally, the tourism department should collect data on tourist products and footfalls, and identify the source markets, seasonality trends and future potential of the destination. A key aspect of sustainable tourism development hinges on the level of participation of private players, local communities and NGOs. And for this, a comprehensive skill development program is a must.


Situational analysis and needs assessment

Kaziranga - analysis and gaps

Let us try to analyse the best-known destination of North East India – Kaziranga National Park which boasts of some decent accommodation facilities thanks to private sector participation. But it suffers from a woeful shortage of trained and skilled human resources – whether in service, communications, or guidance. Another stark reality is the lack of clean and hygienic public toilets where visitors can relieve themselves respectfully. The ninety-kilometre stretch from Jakhalabandha to Bokakhat doesn’t have a single modern healthcare centre. The importance of doctors and health services to cater to medical emergencies for tourist destinations needs no reiteration.

Dibru Saikhowa - analysis and gaps

Contrastingly, when we analyse the amazingly biodiverse landscape of Dibru Saikhowa National Park or maybe even Dehing Patkai National Park, we will find that these destinations lack even the basic tourist infrastructure facilities, let alone skilled human resources. But the Department went on a spending spree a few years back to beautify a place like Merbeel Sasoni, a beautiful and serene picnic spot nearby. Though good recreational facilities are welcome, the issue here is prioritisation and the potential of a particular destination to be a standalone tourist attraction. The tourism potential of the above area lies in wildlife and not in recreation, which can come later. Today, Dibru Saikhowa is decaying painfully because of the absence of a needs assessment survey.

Circuit Development before Brand Ambassador for Assam

A tourism circuit does not necessarily mean connecting and marketing two or more destinations as a circuit. Visible, user-friendly, clean and hygienic Wayside amenities – equipped with user-friendly toilets, food joints and information kiosks at frequent intervals are all part of circuit development. The government need not create these facilities, but they need to facilitate such ventures in partnership with the private sector while creating and keeping a strict vigil on the management framework. These wayside amenities should become a part of the publicity exercise in tandem with the destinations being marketed.

Human Resource Development

Skill is an integral part of the tourism and hospitality sector since it involves a high degree of customer contact. The youths of the local communities in a destination should be equipped with good communication skills and be adaptable and flexible towards other cultures and languages. The government should tailor specific training modules for capacity improvement for the local youths to ensure a high-quality visitor experience. The training modules should be aligned with the tourism product of the area. For instance, there is an acute shortage of birding guides in Assam though we house more than 500 species of birds.

Tourist Friendly Attitude​

A tourist-friendly attitude goes a long way in brand building for a destination. Attitudes depend on several factors, including the setting, level of intimacy, prior experience, education and exposure. Essentially, attitudes can be broken into two sections – thoughts and actions. The core of our attitudes starts with our thinking around how we approach the world, relationships, work and other areas of life. Based on how positive we are, this translates into our behaviour towards people, the environment and situations.

When the situation changes, people with a good attitude can adapt, respond and excel appropriately compared to someone with a poor outlook. Skills and experience can be taught and learnt, but attitudes are difficult to change. So proper screening of stakeholders, from taxi drivers to roadside vendors, is necessary to develop a destination.

Poor Tourism Footfalls in Assam

We have to live with the fact that we are behind in tourist footfalls than even underdeveloped states like Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa. It is sad because there is absolutely no dearth of tourism assets in the state – be it wildlife, nature, adventure, agro-tourism, etc.

The case of Rajasthan Tourism

I recall a statement made by the Managing Director of Rajasthan Tourism on how they went about their job. They prepared a plan to ensure that 1 % of all international tourists visiting India should visit their state in the first 5 years. This should scale up to 10 % in 10 years, 50 % in 15 years, and ultimately ensure that every international tourist to India should visit Rajasthan in 20 years. This is a motivated and focused attitude to improve the tourism scenario in a state. They went about their job with the road map in place. And the Managing Director was frank enough to admit that Rajasthan does not possess a fraction of the diversity in Assam– be it our culture, landscape, wildlife, handicrafts, music, dances, cuisine, dresses, etc.

So it is high time we pull up our socks and endeavour to realise the tourism potential of Assam. The tourism department should facilitate, and we, the stakeholders should play an active role in partnering with them to ensure sustainable tourism development in Assam. And, then, we will not be debating on who should be the Brand Ambassador for Assam.

Do we need a Brand Ambassador for Assam now?

So it is high time we pull up our socks and endeavour to realise the tourism potential of Assam. The tourism department should facilitate, and we, the stakeholders should play an active role in partnering with them to ensure sustainable tourism development in Assam. And, then, we will not be debating on who should be the Brand Ambassador for Assam.

Bhaskar J Barua

An engineer by education, a Project Management Consultant by profession, a wildlife photographer by hobby and a passionate conservationists. Founded Agoratoli Resort and Kaziranga Foundation.