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Life of Pi – India’s lost opportunity

November 28, 2012

India might have missed a big opportunity in China yet again. The Bollywood crazed nation failed to entice China’s population of 1.3 billion people to journey across Incredible India through the Life of Pi. Produced and Directed by Ang Lee, the movie which showcases spectacular views of South India including the French city of Pondicherry and the phenomenal Bengal Tiger has become an overnight sensation in China. The Indian government however missed capitalizing on this opportunity to market the journey West to the Chinese – poised to become the worlds largest tourist nation by 2015.

Charismatic cinematography, stunning visual effects and a movie that touches not just the soul, but also ones imagination, the Life of Pi could have helped India market some of her little known gems to the rest of the world. In China, where the movie has gone viral, breaking box office records and raking in US$16 million in its opening weekend — more than four times the amount in India, the movie could have done wonders for the tourism industry.

A soft skill, one that New Delhi’s Tourism Ministry just caused ripples with – A huge Incredible India advertisement campaign did little to urge the Chinese tourist to visit India. Today, only 0.001 percent of Chinese travelers come to India, a majority of these for business reasons, a hairline percentage to travel around the fascinating nation. In comparison, a majority take their shopping skills and disposable incomes to Europe which promises sophistication and branded products at a lower cost than available in China.

In the past six months, India only issued 25,000 tourist visas in its Embassy in Beijing and three Consulates in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, suggesting that tourism figures are only in the range of 50,000 annually — 0.001 per cent of the total outbound tourism.

Chinese tour operators say demand for travel in India is low because of inadequate promotion efforts in recent years — particularly involving tour operators — and dissatisfaction with the service offered by current operators, from a lack of Chinese-speaking guides and the availability of Chinese cuisine. Hence, tourists were choosing to travel to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and even Sri Lanka and Nepal instead.

“A beautiful film; India is now the most beautiful travel destination in my heart,” wrote a blogger named Beautiful Carpenter who writes on travel and fashion.

Au Xin, a DJ at Radio Guangdong, said in a message to his 45,000 followers on the Chinese Twitter equivalent Sina Weibo that what he liked about the film was director “Ang Lee’s respect and belief in Indian culture.”

Miss Ruby, a Beijing-based microblogger, added on Weibo in a message that echoed most of the online reactions that the film, which also dwells on India’s religious and cultural traditions, would “correct the prejudice and ignorance about Indian culture [in China],” while Xu Xiaohuang, an executive at an insurance company in Zhejiang, said the film was “meaningful and beautiful, and makes me want to travel to India.”

While its heart-warming to see the Chinese desire to travel to magical India rise, the Indian government has not followed suit. Movies are generally and often used by tourism ministries to promote a country – her culture, soft skills and exotic locations in a larger than life format to create a mass desire to visit the country. Much like Bolloywood film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara generated an Indian furore to travel to Spain, both the hugely popular 3 idiots and Life of Pi could have done the same for India.

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