Guest post by Dr. Eran Ketter

India’s image crisis: managing a tourism brand under assault

By: Dr. Eran Ketter

The recent incident in which a Japanese female tourist was gang-raped by Indian men next to the Buddhist pilgrimage center of Gaya is another tragic case in a list that is getting longer and longer. In recent years, many cases of sexual assaults were reported from around India, involving tourists from Switzerland, United States, Japan and other key source markets. While a rare negative incident might be soon forgotten, the accumulated effect of returning incidents may cause a severe damage to the destination image. This accumulated image crisis might erode the destination’s image, scare away tourists and have a long standing impact on India’s tourism industry.

In this turbulent situation, India tourism stakeholders must first act to tackle the crisis. This include actions in several layers: launching internal campaigns aimed at increasing attention to acts against tourists and promoting active bystander intervention; increasing police presence in tourist areas, on both day and night hours; enhancing enforcement and punishment of perpetrators; sensitizing tourism industry employees on keeping their guests safe; and communicating with tourists on what they should and shouldn’t do.

On the communication side, India can act proactively in order to minimize damages to its public image as a tourism destination. One highly appropriate media strategy is to expand the place’s image; in this strategy, places try to blur the negative images with positive news that shift media attention to more favorable aspects of the place. Among others, employing this strategy will involve heavy use of public relation tactics and of social networks in order to increase the public’s attention to India’s beautiful landscapes, rich history and vibrant culture. In addition, India may use the media strategy of delivering a counter message. In this strategy, places deliver messages that contradict a common stereotype and are aimed at shattering it. In the current case, India may deliver media messages regarding the friendliness of its people, their openness and their welcoming nature.

Like with any other type of image crisis, India’s road to recover its image might be long and rough. Working together on both the physical layer and the image layer is a strong combination that can assist India in solving this crisis, enhancing its image and boosting the Indian tourism industry.

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Eran Ketter (PhD) is a tourism researcher, strategic advisor and the co-author of the award-winning book "Media Strategies for Marketing Place in Crisis" (BH, 2008).

www.eKetter.com

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