CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu led the country in terms of foreign tourist arrivals for five years between 2014 and 2020, with a share of between 17% and 21%. Then came Covid-19. Tourism is reviving globally and industry stakeholders are hoping the state government will move quickly to help the sector which was contributing 8% to 10% of the state’s GDP and providing jobs to over of 30 lakh people. In fact, India’s foreign exchange earnings from tourism stood at $30 billion in 2019.
Chennai is the gateway for foreign travelers to explore South India. This gives Tamil Nadu a head start. And this year, China has closed its borders because of the Covid and Sri Lanka is in the grip of an economic crisis. So inquiries are pouring in even from non-core markets such as Australia, Thailand and Brazil, tourism stakeholders say.
Traditionally, Tamil Nadu has had footsteps mainly from Spain, France, Italy, Germany, UK, USA, Singapore, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Although the interest in new markets is a good sign for the upcoming tourist season (September-March), Tamil Nadu needs to make an extra effort to attract those who only look south after north India, say stakeholders. Heritage and spiritual tourism are the main attractions of Tamil Nadu. “However, we need to expand the plateau to include wildlife sanctuaries to attract more travellers,” says M Charles, secretary of the Federation of South Indian Tour Guides.
The 44th Chess Olympiad will be held near Mamallapuram in July with participants from over 150 countries. The two-week sports jamboree can become the trigger for new initiatives. “We should take this opportunity to publicize the tourist destinations of Tamil Nadu. Hotels should also offer rooms at competitive prices to welcome foreign tourists again,” says P Asoka, president of the Association of Licensed Tourist Guides. He also wants international fairs to be organized to attract foreign tourists. Dr Karunanidhi, president of the Tamil Nadu Travel Mart Society, says the state government needs to focus on promoting rural tourism, which could attract backpackers.
“This segment is important because an individual will spend up to $30 per day. Thanks to rural tourism, we can highlight our agricultural activities, temple festivals and local cuisine. We can accommodate them in the villages, providing jobs and income for the inhabitants. Data from the Union Ministry of Tourism shows that 68.7 lakh international tourists visited Tamil Nadu in 2019, an increase of 47.4% from 2014. Chennai Airport ranked fourth in the country in terms of the number of foreign tourist arrivals in the same year.
Sri Lankans, Singaporeans and Malaysians prefer the city as a point of entry into India.
As part of promoting Tamil Nadu abroad, the state tourism department participated in the International Hot Air Balloon Festival in Leon, Mexico in November last year and Expo Dubai in March of this year. The government has also revived the guesthouse scheme and ‘hop-on, hop-off’ buses to connect major tourist attractions in Chennai under the PPP model. It will also establish caravan parks.
Honorary Secretary of South India Hotels and Restaurants Association (SIHRA), T Nataarajan says that “India should organize campaigns across the world to ensure that our country can travel safely after Covid-19 on par with the promotions made by Dubai and the Maldives”.
Secretary of State for Tourism B Chandra Mohan said the tourism department was hard at work. “We are offering new package tours for tourists with a focus on the Tamil Diaspora. We are trying to promote new segments of tourism such as water sports. The aim is to make Tamil Nadu an adventure sports destination. The bed and breakfast initiative will be one of the biggest capacity builders for the state, he adds.
“If we are lucky and more Covid-19 curbs are relaxed, we could receive at least half the number of tourists than in 2019 by the end of this fiscal year,” says Sanjiv Agarwal, President and CEO by Fairfest Media Ltd.