Thursday, July 15, 2010

Temples Go The Corporate Way

Akhil Vinaik, Bijal Dani | NMIMS

India has always been known for its diversity and cultural heritage. It is home to various religions and communities that co-exist in harmony. Hindu temples now have a noticeable presence across the globe and form the cynosure of India’s cultural tradition and spiritual succour.

Since time immemorial, temples have been identified as major tourist attractions for India. Not only do they qualify as brand ambassadors of our nation’s heritage, but also contribute to the economy. Therefore, it becomes imperative to view temples and their potential from a different lens. Over the years, temples have evolved from being just centres of pilgrimage and prayers. They are now avenues where people seek knowledge on Hindu philosophy, Spiritual Transcendence, Ayurveda, Yoga and Meditation. Temple Tourism is emerging as a powerful and popular stream of the tourism industry, much ahead of eco-tourism, adventure tourism, heritage tourism, medical tourism “Having temples listed on the stock exchange” A distant reality! Not Really? The tourism industry has huge growth potential due to increased disposable income in the hands of growing middle class population and Government campaigns similar to “Incredible India” to promote tourism.

For instance, in Andhra Pradesh, heritage temples are being spruced up. Under development of heritage tourism circuit, then Tourism Minister and the present Municipal Administration Minister Anam Ramnarayana Reddy has sanctioned Rs.23 crore in 2008 for developing heritage temples in the district and lot of development work is under progress.

India is arguably the largest bullion market in the world. It is worth noting that Indian temples own more gold than even the Reserve Bank of India. This is primarily due to the fact that temples receive gold coins and jewellery as donations. The scale is so huge that commercial banks have tie ups with temples to process their gold holdings and big temples have dedicated departments to manage their donations that come in the form of gold and silver ornaments, in addition to coins.

Having understood the significance of temples beyond the obvious, it would be worthwhile to study and analyse how they can be moulded in the shape of brands having a distinct image in the minds of the people. In a broad sense, they are service units catering to a mass population of pilgrims and worshippers. Therefore the need for temples to be recognised brands with best-in-class service that reaches out to the common man. Three essentials of a service branding exercise encompass Reach, Recognition and Reputation, the 3 R’s as we popularly call them.
Drawing a parallel with any service industry where operations form an integral part of any business entity’s existence, temples too need a strong operational plan in place. In essence, it would mean formulating a framework and set guidelines to provide service to the visiting pilgrims and make their visit to their place of worship a comfortable and fulfilling one. There is a paradigm shift commensurate to the above reasoning, as can be substantiated by the fact that temples are going in for ISO certifications. An ISO certification essentially signifies a standardization of procedures and processes, practices, monitoring mechanisms and continuous improvement plans. In a nutshell, it is a measure for quality management systems.
A Ram temple in old Bhopal now flaunts an ISO certification for following a quality management system. The certificate was awarded to the trust for standardising the process of worship, for the facilities provided to devotees, for quality management and transparent purchase system, while sticking to their Vedic traditions. The government is also planning to set up an apex body to promote temple tourism and facilitate the modernization of temples in India. In addition, the advent of the internet and its ease has led to revolutionary changes in the way many temples are managed.


Golden Temple
  • Tie up with Financial Institutions: Tied up with HDFC to accept donations online through a secure payment gateway.

  • Adoption of technology : Temples now offer convenience of darshan to the devotees through “Online darshan”-Live web casting of the deity
  • Dedicated website : The temple officials are in the process of even updating their financial results on the website
  • Payment gateways : Provide a mechanism to receive donations, through Credit Card, Online Banking accounts, Cheque, Demand Drafts or Money Orders
  • Auction gold and silver ornaments donated by the devotees : Part of the auction money will be given to social causes and the rest will be utilised for activities in temple

Tirumala Tirupathi
  • Religious significance : Sri Venkateswara temple in Tirumala has a significant importance in India’s religious milieu
  • Service facilities : In the form of sevas, with advance booking
  • Online Booking : Sevas constitute special prayers and can now be booked online
  • Online donations
  • Distribution and marketing : Cassettes and CD’s of Vedas, Sankirtanas and Pravachanams
  • Purohita Sangham: Dedicated association known as the ‘Purohita Sangham’ which conducts marriages and other sacred functions like naming ceremony, etc.
  • Strategic Tie-ups :Tie-ups with professional marriage agencies and cottages are provided for accommodation

  • Spiritually rich culture :Individuals from all over the world visit Sri Sri Radha Rasabihari temple and spend a few days to benefit from and inculcate values from the spiritual culture
  • Guesthouses & Travel assistance: The Guesthouse at ISKCON Juhu facilitates guests to attend spiritual program at the temple. Dedicated department to facilitate travel for devotees
  • Imparts spiritual education : Versatile Institution actively disseminating spiritual education

The above mentioned snapshots of various practices lead us to conclude that temples are indeed more than mere places of worship. The whole concept now encompasses a gamut of activities and services. These make the entire experience an enriching and memorable one for the common man. The brains behind this have appropriately struck the right chord with the Indian populace and tapped the right nerve, namely, the emotional and religious sentiment. Indians, by tradition relate personal goals, joys and sorrows to their religious Gods. Thus, a huge potential to make it a viable and sustainable model.
It is worth noting that many temples are now trying to have a global presence to reach out to the Indian community abroad. In particular, this is of relevance in UK, USA, Canada, Singapore and many such countries where there are a lot of Indian immigrants.
In addition to this, movies are a very strong medium by which Indian temples and tourism can be promoted. In fact many Bollywood movies use exotic temple locales to shoot important sequences. For instance, Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, is the most recent example. Considering the massive spread and reach of Indian cinema, it gives a huge exposure to India as a tourist attraction.

If such is the magnitude to which temples impact the economy of the nation, it would not be a Utopian dream or an improbable suggestion to have Corporates engaging themselves in this domain. As an abstract example, if the Tatas tie up with the Siddhivinayak temple or the Isckon temple, to improve upon the operational aspects and other issues pertaining to its management, the whole concept of the ISO certifications and service quality becomes all the more validated. This would also enable Corporates and business honchos to project such activities as CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and enable them to improve and build upon their brand equity. Public-private partnerships to make it a professional set up is also on the cards. However, the core element of any such venture should be to make the entire experience for the devotees a comfortable and fulfilling one.

There has been an instance where Amitabh Bachchan was invited at a temple in South India to offer prayers. Roping in celebrities to endorse a temple can add immensely to the emotional value and connect with the masses. Temples also promote art and culture and provide a platform to veteran and upcoming artists to perform. Sometimes, even commercial shows are held with historical monuments and temples in the backdrop. Such forms of display add to aesthetic beauty around which the event is centered and help pull crowds. In addition, a series of religious festivals are celebrated with fervor. Many of the funded temples are willing to extend necessary financial aid to poor and deserving students.

Strategizing the Road Ahead
Definitely, the marketers and companies would benefit from booming religious tourism, since they would get a platform and discover new territories to sell their products and services. They would also take part in developing these strategic locations along with local development authorities.
  • Provide basic sanitary facilities: Along with they could promote their products i.e. if a company sponsors the Free or Paid Rest room facilities, its products would only be sold.
  • Constructing rooms : For devotees to stay and promote their products
  • Offer free/paid transportation facilities : Promotion of their products/services
  • Pharmaceutical companies : Sponsor free medical camps to promote products
  • Food products companies : Set up their outlets to sell products with subsidized /actual prices
  • Clothing/Garment companies: Set up stalls to promote their products and services

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