The southern districts are also rich in religious and leisure tourism assets with tourist destinations classified as religious, leisure, adventure, eco, rural and medical tourism centres.

Tamil Nadu, with its long history and great culture dating back to at least over two millennia, is endowed with a number of temples on a scale seldom seen elsewhere in the world and a heritage that is unique, which provides excellent scope for religious as well as heritage tourism.

The southern districts are also rich in religious and leisure tourism assets with tourist destinations classified as religious, leisure, adventure, eco, rural and medical tourism centres.

With the objective of providing a boost to tourism in south Tamil Nadu, which accounts for 41 per cent of the domestic and 23 per cent of the foreign tourists visiting the State, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) had submitted earlier this year to the State Government a study on ‘Development of Tourism Sector in Southern TN: A Strategic Road Map’ prepared this February by Madras Consultancy Group.

Right Time

With the tourism season about to start in September, stakeholders in tourism sector told The Hindu that this was the right time for State Government to design an optimum strategy to ensure that Tamil Nadu had something to offer through the year rather than just during the season.

According to the Tourism Department, over 4.26 crore tourists visited important tourist centres in southern Tamil Nadu in 2010 with the tourist arrivals having more than trebled during 2005 to 2010 period.

To sustain this increase, the study urged the Government to tackle the lack of infrastructure as well as inadequate promotional activities that have limited tourism growth in several other leisure, heritage and eco-tourism locations.

Growth must come from new tourism circuits and the optimum tourism strategy for the southern districts needs to emphasize on increasing tourist arrivals in leisure, heritage and other emerging circuits.

Considerable scope exists for promoting a Jain heritage circuit starting from Madurai.

Two forms of tourism

Two forms of tourism have shown promise in the southern districts in recent years. They were the foreign students coming here to study culture and the latter being the huge Tamil diaspora especially from South East Asian countries keen to visit their ancestral places.

They also visit other places of their interest, especially temples, villages in the surrounding areas and shopping was a key objective of these visits, as well.

The Government should encourage these tourism models by upgrading infrastructure and initiate tie-ups with academic institutions and foreign universities to encourage exchange programmes.

The CII study had also suggested detailed measures for improving tourism in each of the nine districts. Chief among them was that the TTDC takeover Chettinad style-houses located predominantly in Kanadukathan in Sivaganga, renovate and maintain them and arrange package tours to the Chettinad region from Chennai or Madurai

Immediate priorities

In view of the increasing purchasing power in the economy, there has to be greater focus on the middle and upper tourist segments so that the sector can benefit from higher tourist spends at the tourist centres.

The immediate priorities of the Stage Government must be to train knowledgeable, multilingual guides, regulate and monitor their performance; strict monitoring of the maintenance of the basic facilities at tourist, destinations; installing CCTV’s to strengthen security in all major tourism locations and eliminate vandalism; provide direction and sign boards in Tamil, English and Hindi; making available tourism literature at vantage locations and a well-structured Internet-based information including user friendly web sites and booking facilities can be introduced.

The study also called for upgrading Madurai Airport into an international one and expediting the extension of runway to accommodate bigger aircrafts; expansion of Tuticorin airport; improving rail connectivity to Tuticorin; new railway lines to Manamadurai and Kanniyakumari via Tiruchendur; augmenting the highway network to ensure all major towns are linked by high-quality two-lane roads; scaling up the East Coast Road (ECR) to Ramanathapuram to four-lane road and beefing up the civic infrastructure of towns near tourism destinations.

More In: Madurai