Going local… to what extent?

23Oct06

I have just got back from an extremely relaxing and pleasant overnight cruise on the Superstar Libra. We set sail on Friday night (the 20th), far away from the heat and dust – and noise – of Bombay during Diwali and returned the next day at 2 p.m. Here is a detailed account of my cruise, if you are interested.

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What struck me most during the entire cruise was the extent to which Star Cruises had “Indianised” their offering. Definitely to the extent that put me off at regular intervals. South-east Asian girls cutely saying Namaste and bahoot accha in Hindi is just the beginning. All restaurants on the ship (except for one which served Continetal food) served jain cuisine – which is a type of cuisine without onion and garlic and a lot of other things – rules strictly adhered to by one of the richest community in India – jains mostly from Gujarat and Rajasthan… There were photographs and idols of Hindu gods and goddesses everwhere. The DJ ceaselessly belted out the latest Hindi film hits, all duly remixed and techno-ised. And the ship even had a bar / club called Bollywood.

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I felt completely underwhelmed through the trip and when I commented on this later to a friend, she said – they who have the money make the rules. So to what extent would a company be willing to “go local” for the sake of pleasing the majority of the market?

McDonald’s came to India, got themselves an Indian menu, promised to never serve beef and pork (holy cow!), priced themselves right into the market, showed entirely Indian images and symbols in their advertising, at the same time, maintaining international hygiene and quality standards, and soon became the preferred family-eating-out joint. True, no one goes to McDonalds hoping for a world-class eating experience.

But with a cruise, part of a chain that is based out of Singapore and is known to be world-class, I expect just that. World-class standards and service – and by service, not the smile-politely-at-anything-you-say type but just the whole package on offer. Star Cruises has gone completely the “other way” trying to lure the moneyed locals who, true to form, want to get away from it all, and want it all where they go! The tourism industry in india has learnt its lessons quickly – travel companies now offer special packages for such tourist groups where they get to take along even an Indian-vegetarian cook.

That makes immense business sense for the agencies. To me, it makes no difference. For I have a choice – I can choose not to travel in those groups, or even not to travel through any agent / company. But in this case, I do not have a choice. There are no other cruises on offer. I will spend money on a holiday that is peaceful and relaxing – and definitely helps me to get away from it all. I expect to sample good international cuisine, listen to new music forms and watch well-made shows during the night. However, I am not the big spending customer – I am the minority in the large market that India is.

The cruise would have been perfect (it still was wonderful, once I learnt to ignore the “noise”) if it had met my expectations – class, quality, subtlety – that it is known for elsewhere. But that would have let down the “market”. So, I repeat, to what extent would an international company be willing to dilute its core values or associations to “please” the market. In doing so, is there any harm it is causing to itself in the long run? It is too late in the day here for me to even think of this further… What do you think?

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5 Responses to “Going local… to what extent?”

  1. Charu, thanks so much for posting this. I, too, would have been quite disappointed to have embarked on an international cruise ship for a trip on international seas only to discover that everything about the ship is anything but international. It’s quite putting off. Why do we as Indians prefer to be surrounded by the familiar? Where is our sense of adventure, I wonder?

    Great blog, btw! I will be visiting often!

  2. Charu, my take on this is – the “brand” only exists for its customers – if the majority of customers want to see it this way, then the brand will develop a distinct personality for them. The hitch would be if the brand’s international customers also had this experience, and felt let down. So long as the two customer bases are distinct, the issue may not be felt as much, except for a small portion of customers like you, who get the local experience, but know about the global one, and hence, feel the disconnect.

    When the number of such customers rises, surely the brand will re-invent itself – perhaps offer two distinct offerings, maybe one of them sub-branded differently.

  3. Your post made me think: This localization definitely takes away the original from everything. While having a Chinese dish in India, one should rather order ‘Indo-Chinese’ ‘coz that’s what one realy gets – the indian version of a chinese dish! It’s certainly good business-wise to cater to the demands of the majority but the whole point of
    experimenting with a different cuisine is gone.
    Interestingly, When McDonald succeeds by caring about the indian palate, Subway has succeeded in maintaining its international brand by simply adding something EXTRA(to make the indian consumer happy) to their already existing menu. I like the later approach better.


  1. 1 A Time To Reflect » Blog Archive » Reflections from a cruise
  2. 2 The (G)localization Dilemma « Cubically Challenged

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