Strategic place branding and place marketing of Manipur

Rajesh A M *

Breath-taking landscape of Manipur taken by Bullu Raj :: 2011
Breath-taking landscape of Manipur taken by Bullu Raj :: 2011

To many of us articles on tourism potential in Manipur might sound like an overdose and might have already crossed the threshold of readers' patience. But until unless a modest level of tourists inflow is achieved the articles are here to stay. It is a must, has to be digested fact. We need to develop liking, though unpalatable, to such articles.

One reason that tourism sector has not been able to achieve desired goals is we might have failed in Strategic place branding and place marketing of Manipur. A huge tourism potential is of no consequence without proper place branding and place marketing. With proper place branding and place marketing, one can achieve better results even with few resources.

Place branding is about managing reputation, building an authentic image of a place and loyalty among tourists (and the likes of investors, traders etc) and more importantly is supply driven, long term process. Place branding requires investment in infrastructure, events, buildings etc. It is about focusing on our strengths and building authentic stories over it.

Place marketing is about advertising and communicating who we are and delivering strategically strengths and stories to right audience through appropriate channels (slogans, logos, publicity videos, price, subsidies, discounts etc). It is demand driven. Hence supply (Place branding) and demand (Place marketing) are interdependent, a simple economics.

Without place branding there is no significance to place marketing. Place marketing and place branding are few of the best ways to change the psychology of tourists and the likes and are the reason behind Jammu & Kashmir's success in tourism. Jammu & Kashmir ensures that tourists have adequate information about main ingredients of tourism (people, natural and cultural heritage).

In order for an effective place branding what we need is organic (based on cultural and natural heritage) place branding because culture and traditions of Manipur and neighboring states demands it. For our state tourism that is secular and organic stands out to gain more compared to cities dominated by inorganic tourism (likes of the so called sin city "Las Vegas").

Organic tourism will address the concerns of customs and traditions of all the communities of our state. Many of the tourism infrastructures to support cultural and natural heritage have been launched by the government of Manipur. To say, there is a progress in our efforts towards place branding of Manipur. Few things that can contribute to place branding can be replicated.

Luxury house boats can float in Loktak Lake, which is no less beautiful than Dal Lake of Jammu and Kashmir. Why do not we facilitate setting up of spa and associated therapeutic centers? Of course, with strict guidelines to conform to the local customs and traditions. Why do not we replicate home stay concepts and Jungle Lodges & Resorts in Karnataka?

Ecotourism festival, which was held first time in Armenia in association with WWF, is a viable event and can be a best place branding strategy. It may include erecting of tents/camp sites, Local cuisines prepared out of organically grown foods, book and literature festival, trekking and exhibition of local culture, flora and fauna. These will add to place branding of our state.

Key factor is to form Joint Tourism Management committees on the lines of Joint Forest Management Committees and make them partners in all the new products of tourism.

Manipur tourism policy, 2014 clearly pointed out the factors affecting tourism in Manipur as security and internal conflicts, lack of Visa-on-Arrival facility, limited tourism infrastructure facilities, slow progress of infrastructure projects, lack of good road infrastructure and others. But inadequate Place marketing is equally a deterring factor. It is the place marketing domain in which we have not been able to get desired results.

We have not been successful in capitalizing on few realities like Manipur was 5th (2005) position in Human Development Index, 5th in Sex Ratio, 9th in Literacy and We were never in the league of so called racist states. Same is the case in Cultural heritage (traditions, rituals, dances), Organic food (organic agriculture and horticulture), Polo and other sports, Natural heritage (Unique flora and fauna, Loktak Lake, Tropical to temperate ecosystems), free from air pollution, largely self reliant population (near zero number of beggars), Women empowerment, low infant mortality at 9 per 1000 (better than some of the South American and Arab countries), low crime rate (against children and women) etc.

Mr. Lord Irwin once called Manipur as the "Switzerland of India" and Jawaharlal Nehru as the "Jewel of India" and by these both have already contributed to place marketing. But again no capitalization of such past place marketing.

Staging of few high quality events like football matches (between international teams and best clubs in the world), literature festivals, international film festivals and any other events of national and international significance will be one of the strategies to showcase the undiscovered and unexplored natural and cultural heritage of our state and indirectly help in place marketing.

Manipur Sangai Festival alone is insufficient to market Manipur as tourism destination and as a change in strategy Sangai festival should be organized in different districts on rotational basis so that the host district gets benefited in multiple ways.

Slowly we have grabbed the top spot for bandhs, hartals etc from Kerala (which then was sarcastically labeled as "hartals own country") and West Bengal. This is a serious issue and onus is on us to assure that tourism is not affected by blockades, hartals and bandhs. The difference between Jammu and Kashmir and other states is that Jammu and Kashmir invested about Rs. 31.3 million in 2015 for tourism promotion through print and electronic media.

We need more intensive tourism campaigns. The planning and publicity wing should be formed to ensure place branding and place marketing. Making and streaming of "Safe and Beautiful Manipur" and "Explore Manipur " campaigns (video, print etc) with views of both domestic and foreign tourists visiting Manipur will definitely help, when widely publicized, improve and or change perception about our state.

It is time all stakeholders imbibe tourism as an ideology and make it a movement. The Asian Development Bank, long back, discovered the 'unrealized potential of the region as an ecotourism product". Manipur is a gateway to South-East Asia, with the Asian Highway 1 passing through the state and Railway set to enter the state.

Considering these facts a strategic place branding and place marketing document with a comprehensive promotion plan comprising new destinations, innovative tourism products and commitment from as many participants from public and private sectors and civil societies and with special focus on convenience (accessible to differently-abled tourists), coverage, confidence (tourists) and cost will be a reinforcing factor for tourism sector and then only we can witness articles focusing on other aspects of tourism in print media.

* Rajesh A M wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is DFO/Senapati Forest Division, Government of Manipur
This article was posted on March 26, 2017.

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