Stakeholders hope that a host of pending and new initiatives would be taken up to boost tourism

The importance of the tourism sector, the State Tourism Department’s Policy Note 2012 – 2013 states, can be gauged by the fact that the tourism industry was the highest generator of employment. Out of every nine persons, one person earns a living from tourism.

As compared to 13 jobs created in manufacturing industries and 45 jobs in agriculture for every million rupees of investment, the tourism sector mainstays of hotels and restaurants generated 89 jobs.

Given this, it was no surprise that the Tamil Nadu Government has adopted a multi-pronged strategy for developing tourism. Vision Tamil Nadu 2023 document unveiled by the Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had also envisaged a total investment to the tune of Rs.10,000 crore in tourism infrastructure.

Relevance to Madurai

Many of the strategies chalked out by the Government have particular relevance for Madurai, which is a major hub for tourists heading to both the southern districts of Tamil Nadu or to Kerala.

The idea to develop lesser-known tourist places and waterfalls to attract both domestic and foreign tourists would fit perfectly with the long-standing proposals to develop Kuttiladampatti waterfalls in the district.

Developing rural tourism to generate rural employment, providing alternative tourist attractions and developing pilgrim centres by providing infrastructure facilities also play to the Temple City’s strengths.

However for these to materialise, a host of long-pending issues bugging the tourism sector in Madurai have to be dealt with urgently.

With the recent arrival of a new Collector, Anshul Mishra, tourism stake holders in the region have expressed hope that a fresh impetus would be imparted to the sector.

More tourist guides

Involvement of locals was vital to maintain the infrastructure created by the Government, said K.P. Bharathi, programme leader of Tourism Development division for Dhan Foundation, a Madurai-based NGO that works with the Tourism Department in promoting local events.

Forming of Local Tourism Development Committee was vital for sustainable development, he said, adding that such an approach was adopted by the Foundation with some degree of success.

He also echoed a long standing demand for more Government-accredited tourist guides in the district. While most foreign tourists come as a group with their own guides, Madurai attracted a large volume of tourists from North India who come individually. Authorised tourist guides would be of immense help to them and also create employment for youth.

Another vital area that demanded the immediate attention of the Collector was auto rickshaw and taxi drivers who constitute the initial point of contact for foreign tourists. This segment must be trained on how to be friendly to tourists and also promote local cultural events and festivals that would attract foreign tourists.

Attractive brochures containing details of local events besides uploading them into websites would also go a long way in boosting tourism in Madurai Region, concludes Mr. Bharathi.

Develop ‘Madurai.com’

B.S.G. Mustafa, President of the Travel Club here, has called for creating a calendar exclusively for the festivals for the next five years in Madurai. This would enable tourists to plan their travel well in advance.

A ‘Madurai.com’ website should be created and filled with all tourism-related information. The city should host cultural programs thrice a year during Pongal, Chitrai festival and Navarathri on specific days every year.

He reiterated a long-pending demand for providing head phones with recorded narration in different foreign languages at tourist places of interest describing the place. A fee could be charged.

He suggested the establishment of ‘May I help you’ counters in all important places such as the railway station, airport, Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple, King Tirumalai Naick Palace and the Gandhi Memorial Museum. An informative map and a guide about Madurai should be made available at reasonable price.

Besides calling for Madurai Airport expansion and the need to make it an International airport as soon as possible, Mr. Mustafa wanted measures to reduce traffic congestion inside the city by providing parking facilities in the outskirts and provide commuter buses connecting tourism hotspots.

Water sports

N. Sriram, Director of Balika Tours and Travels, has called for establishing water sports - such as water rafting using speedboats - at the lake in K.K. Nagar. As it would be a completely new activity in the region, it could be developed in a major tourist attraction.

Besides foreigners, it would also attract residents of Madurai as it would be a much-needed recreational activity.

He also urged the State Government to organise conducted tours to showcase the unique activities of Madurai.

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