NISHANT KASHIKAR, Country Manager (India & Gulf), Tourism Australia
NISHANT KASHIKAR, Country Manager (India & Gulf), Tourism Australia

Having a purpose…

I started off as a management trainee with pharmaceutical and healthcare company Abbott. I was responsible for the launch of a product called PediaSure. Then I joined Thomas Cook and Kuoni, to market holidays. Now, with Tourism Australia, I market a destination. It’s been an amazing journey of marketing things that really appeal to people in their day-to-day lives. I've always believed that there has to be a reason for your existence, and some purpose as to why you're doing a particular job. So, at Abbot, it was all about enhancing the quality of life, addressing that guilt factor which all moms have… At Thomas Cook and Kuoni, it was all about enriching lives, uniting families by organizing hassle-free holidays. And thereby contributing to the world economy, as tourism is a major contributor to GDP of most nations. At Tourism Australia, the purpose is to strengthen the people-to-people links between the two countries and showcasing why there's truly nothing like Australia. A common thread binds all my marketing efforts, and that is advocacy.

Bringing Australia closer…

When I joined Tourism Australia almost a decade ago in June, 2010, we had this unfortunate incident in Australia involving Indian students, and Australia's reputation took a hit. We launched a campaign called ‘Namaste Australia’, showcasing Australia through the eyes of Indians. It had real people talking about their real experiences. Ever since then, be it the ‘Namaste Australia’, ‘There’s Nothing like Australia’, ‘Restaurant Australia’, ‘Undiscover Australia’ , or the most recent ICC T20 World Cup campaign titled ‘Experience the Game and Beyond’, advocacy, working with influencers and ‘Friends of Australia’ have been an integral part of all our marketing efforts.

Over the years, I've also seen a transition in the media environment. Earlier, we worked with the likes of Sony, Star Plus and Zee, to take broadcast projects into Australia, right from ‘Bade Achhe Lagte Hain’, to ‘Pyar Ka Dard’, to ‘Yeh Hain Mohabbatein’. In fact, we had a wonderful relationship with Balaji Telefilms, all of Ekta Kapoor’s family soaps have been shot in Australia too! But now, we've pivoted to leveraging the OTT platforms. Content has become an integral part of our marketing efforts. Apart from English content, we are also focusing on regional platforms and working with the likes of Marathi YouTube channel, BhaDiPa. In digital, it's not just leveraging Search, but also Display, Social, Content, Videos, Programmatic, etc., that we're doing currently. Pre-COVID, almost 60% of our budgets were on digital media, and today, 100% of our investments are on digital. We have also moved from demographic targeting of audiences to more psychographic targeting, to keep the lights on during a phase where international travel has come to a standstill.

LESSONS FROM M S BANGA
Many years ago, I had the opportunity to attend the AdAsia conclave in Jaipur, and I listened to this insightful presentation by M S Banga, former chairman of Unilever India. He said that to become an iconic brand, you need to have four ‘I’s. First, the brand should treat you as an individual. Second, the brand should inspire you to do something right, something different. Third, it’s about intimacy – you as a customer need to have a loyal and a lasting relationship with the brand. Lastly, it should appeal to your inner self. This is a valid proposition even today, and will continue to be relevant in future as well.

Nurturing the India dream…

Going forward, we are focusing on three things - to keep the India dream alive, as we truly believe that India has the potential to contribute quite significantly to the Australian economy. This market has the potential to be in the league of 1 million visitor arrivals markets and be either the No. 3 or No. 4 market for Tourism Australia. Just before COVID struck, we had the high-profile Tourism Australia Board come to India to understand the India opportunity and what are the issues and challenges we need to address. We want to keep the India dream alive, and keep investing in this market.

Secondly, we kept the lights on. We ensured that Australia is right up in the consideration set of high value travellers as well as the entire travel industry. We've leveraged the Border-Gavaskar series quite effectively, working with influencers and celebrities on various content platforms. Lastly, we've been trying to keep ourselves ready to attack as soon as the borders open, exploring new partnerships with banks, credit cards and other non-travel partners, who will have access to a database of high-value customers who will have the propensity to travel.

Playing the virtual game…

When the Indian cricket team travelled to Australia for the Border-Gavaskar series, we had spectators at 25% to 50% of stadium capacity. At this point, Australia is virtually COVID-free. Our research shows that almost 87% of Indians believe that it is safe to travel to Australia. Our efforts have been to create virtual experiences for Indian travellers, sowing the seed in their minds to think about Australia as the next holiday destination. We have been doing interesting sessions like an Australian Masterchef teaching Indian travel agents to cook using native, indigenous Australian ingredients. Then we had this penguin parade from Phillip Island, we took Indians on a virtual journey of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, showcased the kangaroos and koalas from Kangaroo Island in Australia. We took them on a virtual underwater journey from one of the pontoons in the Great Barrier Reef and a rainforest experience from Cairns, and so on. Recently, we launched 8D videos, based on sound engineering technology, where you not only visit those destinations virtually, but also listen to the sounds of that particular place, live sitting in your home. Then, we've had these engaging sessions with cricketing greats like David Warner and Brett Lee, as well as partnerships with the likes of BuzzFeed, where we seed content, for example, on what is it that you could do beyond the MCG or the SCG or the Adelaide Oval.

Influencers have played a significant role in strengthening Brand Australia in India. We have an advocacy programme called ‘Friends of Australia’, where we have celebrities or influencers or artists who've got a passion to promote Australia; we have almost 150 Friends of Australia all around the world. In India, we worked with Sanjeev Kapoor when we launched our Restaurant Australia campaign, with Harsha Bhogle for the ICC World Cup 2015 campaign, with Parineeti Chopra for our Undiscover Australia campaign and most recently for the ICC T20 Women's World Cup, we appointed Mithali Raj as a Friend of Australia.

Belief beyond passions…

Always a Mumbaikar, working in the travel industry gave me the opportunity to travel, and it is now a passion. Another passion is cricket; I play professional T20 game every weekend - and this is another link to a cricketing country like Australia. I love music. My wife is in her fifth year of Sangeet Visharad, so I accompany her to musical performances. During the lockdown, I also got into creating small videos for the family; hosting and compering family events. Yoga and meditation through Art of Living and Vipassana help me keep my mental balance.

Three words that are extremely close to my heart are: ‘Make a Difference’. Be it your personal life or your professional life, dealing with colleagues or with your organization or business partners, it's really very important to make a difference, and you will be respected only if you bring about a change, or contribute to somebody's life in a fruitful manner. The Nishant Kashikar that I would like to see is somebody who makes a positive difference to this world, or to the society or community, and that would be the real reason for my existence.

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