The AAP government will soon give a digital push to “brand Delhi” using phone apps and social media. Allocating `30 crore for this and a Delhi festival in this year’s budget, deputy CM Manish Sisodia last Monday said that these initiatives would help in making Delhi a world-class tourist destination.
At least 32% of all foreign tourists arriving in India landed at the Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport at the peak of the tourist season in February this year. This should have made Delhi a tourist hot spot. But it is not.
Delhi remains mostly a transit destination for those heading to Agra and Jaipur on the Golden Triangle circuit, or to the Himalayas. Even TripAdvisor, a travel portal whose viewers rated Delhi as number one on a list of top 25 tourist destinations in India this year, doesn’t recommend more than a three-day stay here.
Surely, Delhi suffers from a branding problem.
According to Saffron Brand Consultants, who created the Saffron European City Brand Barometer, the brand of a location is “the average or common perceptions and associations people have with that place”. Paris evokes romance and is called ‘the city of love’. New York City’s vibrancy and multi-ethnicity are best reflected in sobriquets ‘a city that never sleeps’ and ‘the melting pot’. The birthplace of western civilisation, Rome is the ‘eternal city’.
In India, Mumbai, country’s financial capital and home to Bollywood, is the ‘city of dreams’. Jaipur was branded as Pink City for its pink stone architecture, and Jodhpur, ‘blue city’, for its sky-coloured houses. Delhi cannot be captured by a single unifying idea. That is what makes it unique and can indeed work to its advantage.
Delhi is many cities in one — a kaleidoscope of cities. With 174 national monuments including three UNESCO-listed heritage sites and more than 1,000 culturally important places, Delhi is one of the oldest living cities in the world, giving close competition to Cairo, Baghdad and even Rome.
Delhi’s museums and art galleries boast of the best collections and travelling exhibitions in India. The Aravalli Ridge and the many bio-diversity parks could give New York’s Central Park a run for its money. The medieval lanes of Chandni Chowk are no less impressive than the Gothic streets behind Barcelona’s Las Ramblas. Humayun’s Tomb inspired Shahajahan to build Taj Mahal. In grandeur, Lal Qila easily rivals the Agra Fort or the Amber.
Branding a city requires more than catchy ad campaigns. It is a civic project. Despite its rich living and built heritage, the 378-year-old Shahjahanabad or Purani Dilli is a forgotten decrepit part of the town. The tourist who visit the old city, do so at their own risk. Lately, there has been renewed interest to revive Purani Dilli through beautification and re-introduction of trams. But these changes would remain cosmetic unless we tackle the pressures of congestion, migration, homelessness and urban poverty.
Since the late 1980s, villages that happened to be in the backyard of posh South Delhi neighbourhoods witnessed rapid gentrification — cowsheds and granaries were acquired to open restaurants, art galleries, and fashion boutiques.
Today, Hauz Khas Village is awash with niche eateries. Shahpur Jat is a designer hub. Lado Sara has become the art-mile with a clutch of top art galleries and furniture stores. But we need to bring the urban villages on the civic map through the right mix of regulation, renewal and redevelopment of the existing structures.
Delhi has a cultural district in Mandi House, with calendar events that could keep art, music and theatre aficionados busy through the year. But most of these are ticketed events. In many cities in the world, the best events also come free. The Film Night in the Park is attended by at least 15,000 filmgoers in San Francisco. The concert at the Golden Gate Park, an event started in 1882, remains a crowd-puller.
Delhi does organise free concerts in Nehru Park, Talkatora Gardens and Connaught Place’s Central park. But they often become tedious with intimidating security and long waits in queues. What Delhi lacks is the spontaneity that impromptu street performances offer. A vibrant city is also the one that keeps throwing up pleasant surprises. It makes its citizens proud. Can Delhi find better brand ambassador than Delhiites themselves?
(The writer tweets @shivaniss62)