Branding Kerala as a destination for Natural Cure
What do Madonna, Bernardo Bertolucci, Naomi Campbell, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Demi Moore and Cherie Blair have in common? They have all visited Kerala for Ayurvedic treatments. Apart from being “God’s Own Country”, with its backwaters, dense green forests, verdant hills and tranquil beaches, Kerala is also well-known for Ayurveda, the centuries old medical system of natural healing. The State is probably one of the few places in India where Ayurveda is still very popular. Ayurvedic medicine practitioners and dispensaries coexist alongside doctors and pharmacies for modern medicine. There are also a number of Ayurvedic hospitals and wellness centres that are active in Ayurvedic research.
However, all does not seem well in the Ayurvedic tourism industry. According to tour operators and businesses in the Ayurvedic wellness industry, more international tourists are now visiting Sri Lanka for Ayurvedic treatment than Kerala. A major reason for this are the floods that ravaged the State in 2018. Life in the State is now back to normal and it is time for Kerala to claim back its position as the leading destination for natural cure and wellness in the World. There is a need to brand Kerala’s Ayurveda and own a position that cannot be taken away.
Let’s begin at the basics. Branding resides in the minds of the customer. Your brand is only as good as your customers think it is. A picture, a slogan, a brand name, stories or anecdotes only help a customer connect with a brand but the essence of a brand is lies entirely in the mind of the customer. A brand is the sum total of experiences rather than the product and services themselves.
Hearing your brand name should evoke a set of images and feelings in your customer. Consider, Goa. When you hear of Goa, you think of the sea and fun-filled beaches. It is not the sea or the beach, which you can probably find somewhere else too, but the experience you get there that makes a visit to Goa memorable. Kerala, itself, has become a successful tourist destination not just because of images or slogans. International tourists come to Kerala because they have heard of experiences that tourists have had here. They have heard or read stories and anecdotes.
We have to do the same thing if we have to create a brand for Ayurvedic tourism. To successfully brand Kerala as a destination for natural wellness, we have to create a superlative experience. That includes the State, the city, the hospital and the doctors. For a tourist looking for natural wellness, Kerala, must be the first place that comes to his mind. This is neither easy nor quick.
Start with conducting a brand audit. What do patients and prospective customers think of Kerala as a destination for natural wellness?
Look at our airports, taxis, Ayurvedic hospitals and wellness centres. How easy is it for a patient on a wheelchair to clear customs and immigration? Is access at the Airport easy? Are foreign language interpreters available? Do taxi drivers speak at least English or do we need dedicated taxi services?
Do our Ayurvedic hospitals maintain hygiene to international standards? (Kerala Tourism’s certification of Ayurvedic facilities as Green Leaf and Olive Leaf is a step in the right direction) Do these hospitals have language interpreters? (Most of the modern multi-specialty hospitals in Kerala have them). Train people, if required.
Once that is done, we can begin with designing our brochures, ads and exhibit booths. Only then will our brochures, ads and exhibition stands look authentic. Only then will the people who work in our airports, taxis and hospitals understand the importance of our brand. Only then will patients go back and speak of the excellent Ayurvedic treatment they got in Kerala. Only then will Kerala be recognized the world over as a destination for natural cure and wellness.