There’s no such thing as a free lunch – but who wants to eat alone anyway?
One day during the summer of 2009, I picked up the phone and Vibhava, an IndiaTourism  officer I knew, said: “I have been reading your blog. You really love India. The next time you go to India, you will be our guest.”
Vibhava is a very professional, very upbeat man and I was surprised to hear him sounding emotional – he was really moved by my writing.
Like most Indians I have met, Vibhava loves his country. He is ideally suited to his job because he is well-traveled and genuinely enthusiastic about travel and tourism in India.
He is also young and open to new ideas and new forms of communication – such as blogging.
The phone call from Vibhava surprised and delighted me, as you can well imagine, but it did not come out of the blue. Since I started traveling in India and writing about it on blogs and in print, I have assiduously cultivated a relationship with IndiaTourism.
I started simply by dropping into their office in downtown Toronto to pick up brochures, maps and other materials and information. I often talked to Vibhava’s predecessor, Rao, and slowly a collegial friendship developed. When Rao was transferred to Aurangabad, I introduced myself to his successor, Vibhava.
As well as visiting in person, I have diligently kept my IndiaTourism contacts up-to-date about everything I am doing: I send clippings, PDFs, links to my blog. I also discuss story ideas with them and ask for their advice, and we talk about Indian politics, culture and history. I learn a lot from talking to these men, who know more about India than I will ever know.
In India itself, I have visited Rao in Aurangabad; was invited to the National Tourism Awards in Delhi; and was introduced to several key people in IndiaTourism and in private sector travel and tourism companies.
Through my efforts to cultivate a relationship with IndiaTourism, I have enjoyed many benefits. The first and foremost is my friendships with Vibhava, Rao and their colleague Venkat in Delhi, who is in charge of the rural tourism project in India. I have also been on a 10-day sponsored trip to Kolkata , Darjeeling  and Sikkim ; and spent three days in Aurangabad, as the guest of Rao, seeing the spectacular Ellora and Ajanta caves .
Plus, I have been to several industry events, In Canada and India, which offered excellent networking opportunities. For example, I am just now talking to a large tour operator about developing a BreatheDreamGo tour to India.
In other words, I have cultivated a relationship with IndiaTourism over the past four years, and any benefit I have gained has been in the context of this relationship.
I see it as ongoing, and I am open to future collaboration. I respect the people I have met and I think the reverse is true.
I know for a fact that Vibhava really had to go to bat for me to get the Indian Ministry of Tourism in Delhi to approve my trip. It took months of persuasive phone calls and e-mails. And then when the approval did come through, they completely trusted me to create my own itinerary, and provided me with just the right amount of on-the-ground support and guidance: I was free to explore and follow my own interests and ideas.
I am proud to be the first travel blogger that IndiaTourism sponsored. The trip was the culmination of both years of writing and relationship-building – and of course a big helping of genuine passion.
Have you built a relationship with CVBs, Tourism Departments, or PR firms? Share your advice!