A Diwali at Times Square for Maharashtra, that India needs too

Event on September 22nd has vast potential to refurbish country’s image.

By Sujeet Rajan

"Sujeet"NEW YORK: Six years ago, India put on a show for New Yorkers like it had never done on a scale before in the world: a $10 million extravaganza over four days that saw an advertising blitz to promote tourism – with the stunning Incredible India@60 campaign showcased at choice billboard locations at Times Square, on buses, subway and train stations – and a heady fiesta of cultural, artistic, panel discussions and entertainment mix all over the city with numerous sumptuous gala dinners and receptions to impress the crème de la crème of society. It made its point – India on the move, as one of the advertisements said at Grand Central, a theme taken forward from Davos.

India’s success story in 2007 was the talk of the world:  a 9.4% GDP growth; racing to get closer to China’s growth of over 14%, hoping to be the next super power. Held from September 23rd-26th, to coincide with the start of the UN General Assembly session, the brilliantly conceived campaign in New York City made every Indian who watched and participated in it proud, sent a strong message to the recession-hit US, not only of India’s vast tourism potential, but also its rising confidence on the international stage.

Six years later, almost to the day, come another promotional from India: on September 22nd, Maharashtra Tourism will host a day-long event, Diwali at Times Square, to showcase its tourism potential, with a mix of fashion, entertainment, and cultural events weaved in.

The event will feature vendors and exhibits stretching on three streets – 45th to 47th on Broadway, with the highlights being a cultural festival, a fashion show, and a concert in the evening, where top celebrities from Bollywood will perform on stage. There would also be an orchestrated laser light show, with giant TV screens displaying fireworks, and running promotional videos on tourist destinations in Maharashtra, announced Neeta Bhasin, the President and CEO of the Manhattan-based ASB Communications – a multicultural advertising and marketing organization, which is organizing the event – at a press conference at the Atelier Sky Lounge here, on Thursday.

The Consul General of India in New York, Dnyaneshwar Mulay, along with select representatives of some sponsors of the event, including from Air India and MoneyGram, attended too.

“I want all Indians to come to Diwali at Times Square in their traditional outfits,” said Bhasin. Flash mobs at Times Square in the coming days would publicize the event, she added.

Details of the cost of the event, or the personalities from India who will attend, were not divulged.

It’s not as if Diwali is not celebrated publicly in Manhattan. An annual festival organized by the Association of Indians in America at South Street Seaport for the last 25 years, has had bigger crowds every year, with around 200,000 visitors flocking to it last year. The Asia Society has organized a successful Diwali Family Day on its premises for the last 10 years.

But Diwali at Times Square comes at a critical time for India, has more significance than being just another meet for vendors to congregate, for people to have fun.

With more than 300,000 people passing through Times Square daily, it is one of the busiest areas for pedestrians in the world, and with community from the Tristate area sure to pour in too in large numbers, the event has the potential to be the largest watched event showcasing India, on a single day, more than the annual India Day parade. Even the Incredible India@60 campaign didn’t hold a public performance there, choosing instead Bryant Park and South Street Seaport as venues.

It will also be held when the Indian Prime Minister and a number of ministers will be in town to attend the UN General Assembly, with similar contingents from around the world.

Importantly, India needs to refurbish its image quickly. Unlike six years ago, its growth story has come down drastically, with GDP at 4.4%, talk growing on the international stage of financial vulnerability, fear of a country that can plunge to disaster if foreign investors and multinationals pull out, unemployment grows. It badly needs visitors to come and spend money in the country. Repeated stories of gang rapes from across the country, with the latest case involving a photojournalist in Mumbai, has cut into the country’s tourism numbers, especially women travelers. Shamed the national leaders.

When the Incredible India campaign was started in 2002, 2.38 million visitors flocked that year to the country, which increased to 6.58 million in 2012. But according to a survey of 1,200 tour operators done this year by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, the number of inbound tourists has dropped 25% since December of 2012; the number of female travelers has shrunk by  35%, particularly from the US, Canada, Australia and Britain.

If conducted with taste and panache, with the right kind of messages advertised, Diwali at Times Square can not only increase tourism for Maharashtra, but help bolster India’s image considerably.

It’s another matter that somewhere in Gujarat, a bunch of politicians and state tourism officials must be brooding on the diplomatic coup they could have pulled off if they were the ones hosting the event.

And yes, for those who want to see real fireworks at any event that has ‘Diwali’ attached to it, and might be disappointed to see only fireworks on screen at the Times Square event, you can attend the South Street Seaport Diwali festival on the banks of the East River this year, on October 6th.

(Sujeet Rajan is the Editor-in-Chief of The American Bazaar)

To contact the author, email to sujeetrajan@americanbazaaronline.com

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