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Marketing India With The Rickshaw Challenge Race

IMB_RickshawChallenge2 If you imagine what India looks like, chances are you will picture two things. The Taj Mahal (of course) and the organized chaos of the Indian roads. In most cities large and small, people, cows, bicycles, cars, elephants, trucks and scooters all coexist in a transportation ecosystem that has managed to work despite its complexity. People communicate by honking their horns or flashing their lights. Cars like the Ambassador are routinely patched up or completely rebuilt and last for decades and in the midst of this bumper to bumper jumble is a vehicle that may be the most iconic of those on the Indian roads … the three wheeled rickshaw.

IMB_RickshawChallenge5 Part scooter and part taxicab, the majority of these rickshaws are actually used as lower cost taxis – navigating their way through tight openings and rapidly transporting people from one point to another. For the last five years, these rickshaws have become more than just a mini-sized taxicab … for some adventurous travelers they are the ticket to one of the most unique holiday experiences you can have in India.

IMB_RickshawChallenge1 The Rickshaw Challenge is a series of road races where participants can choose their own rickshaw's and race across parts of India. The Malabar Rampage race through South India is in its final day today and you can see live updates from the teams on the race blog. For any of the races, you get rickshaw driving lessons, have the chance to "pimp your shaw" with a custom design, and be part of a unique community of racers who have created their own culture and fraternity. The route for most races, which takes you through big cities and rural areas, offers a unique philosophy for seeing India:

By racing in a rickshaw you have to slow down, after all the top vehicle speed is 80 kmh or 50 mph. (Way faster than any of the local wildlife, FYI.) This way you’re forced into enjoying the adventure: from the awesome views to the local people and fellow racers.

The rickshaws are "guaranteed to break down" – but as the informational site about the event shares, even the most rural of towns will have the parts and skill to be able to put the simple engine back together. So even though you'll break down, you won't get stranded. The race is happening right now and there are lots of photos and team blogs that you can read to get a sense of the race. One of the best is called RickRollShaw shares soundbite experiences such as this:


This type of holiday is definitely not for everyone – but it does demonstrate a useful and important marketing lesson about creativity and ultimately word of mouth too. This is the type of vacation that people who participate (and even those who don't) will talk about for a long time to come. It is uniquely Indian and something no one else could offer. That's the way to market a destination for tourism, but an important lesson for any other industry as well. If you can create something unique enough, people won't be able to help sharing it with others.


NOTE: Thanks to Arun Rajagopal for spotting and sharing this with me.

9 thoughts on “Marketing India With The Rickshaw Challenge Race”

  1. Thanks for the link (I’m part of Rickrollshaw) 🙂

    As an indicator of how well something like this sticks: I first found out about this in BoingBoing, perhaps 5 years ago, when the first edition kicked off. It stayed at the back of my mind ever since — it was something I ABSOLUTELY had to do. I told everybody about it.

    We just completed the challenge yesterday, and the first prize winners won free entry to the Caucasian Challenge: driving a car from Budapest to Yerevan (across the likes of places like Kosovo)… motor rally enthusiasts are a special breed. People who will drive an autorickshaw for so long without flinching too.

    It was great fun, and like many of the other participants said: it was the best and worst thing I’d done. But it definitely let me see my India in a different light (and I have been there many times, consider it to be home, etc) — small towns, second, third tier cities, you see the changes in language to culture to food and geography happen as you cruise along at 30km/h. It teaches you to keep calm and carry on: every break down is not a disaster, it is an opportunity to wait it out, rely on divine help (assistance from villagers), and talk to everybody who talks to you. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

  2. Great post. Seems like a really exciting time. I recently shipped a yacht to Bombay, and fell in love with Indian culture. Just putting it out there, if you ever need to ship a yacht or boat anywhere, look up Yacht Exports. They did a great job with me. Keep up the good posts.

  3. Great blog post about the role of social media and unique cultural experiences in India – the rickshaw culture and the overcrowded roads of the country.

    I have an observation although. You say: “That’s the way to market a destination for tourism, but an important lesson for any other industry as well. If you can create something unique enough, people won’t be able to help sharing it with others.”

    Destination marketing for tourism should focus on uniqueness, but should this uniqueness be a nightmarish association to the worst possible travel experience? India has so much positive assets to market – millennial cultural heritage, vibrant life and breathtaking nature landscapes. Why should marketing use the worse of the country? You don’t achieve business results with this type awareness, only spreading the information about some unique experience that everybody hates. It is like advising Russia to market itself with the cold of Siberia or Iraq – with the daily terrorist and military attacks. Of course, the best place to freeze to death is in Siberia (not only because of the cold, but because of the poor infrastructure) or the best place is to get killed by roadside bomb is in Iraq, but you would never market these places based on deadly experiences.

    And,I really don’t believe that India’s National DMO would agree with you – just see the Incredible!India videos on youtube and you will agree that they are doing just fine advertising the positive assets of the country, not the negative.

  4. Hi Rossitza,

    Thanks for commenting and sharing your thoughts. I agree that this unique experience definitely doesn’t seem too comfortable or luxurious, but I would argue that for those who have chosen to take part in it – it is anything BUT the “worst possible travel experience.” Actually, I would bet many of them call it the experience of a lifetime. In either case, I think the real goal of the Incredible India campaign is to share all the different amazing experiences that are part of India – from the luxurious stay in a former palace on a lake to the butt-breaking pleasure of exploring rural areas in a 3-wheeled scooter. Though it may seem like a nightmarish trip to you, for someone else it could be the sole reason they make a journey to India.

  5. I have found so many interesting articles & information on various topics in your blog especially its discussion. I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! keep up the good work. I like your presentation.

  6. Thanks that you have brought before us such a important & crucial information. You have a very good feel for getting the right information out to the people. Really liked the way you presented the information.


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