If Temple City is to fully reap the benefits of the increased international air connectivity

Even though lot of hopes were raised in the tourism sector when Madurai Airport got international flights after a prolonged campaign, tourism stake holders in the region say a lot more needs to be done if the Temple City is to fully reap the benefits of the increased connectivity.

At present, the sole international destination connected to Madurai was Colombo. However, there is a large Tamil Diaspora in Singapore and Malaysia where many are from the southern districts of the State. Many of these expatriates travel to their home land to connect with their heritage and for shopping.

Further, a large number of people from the southern districts also work in West Asian countries.

A recent study on air passengers travelling from the southern districts on a weekly basis arrived at the following figures: the traffic to Dubai was 1,200; Singapore 1,100; Kuala Lumpur 1,300; Muscat – 1,000; Colombo 1,200; Male 400; Europe 200; and the U.S. 150.

As such, even though the potential exists for services to many countries, connectivity exists only to Colombo now, said G. Vasudevan, a hotelier and past president of Travel Club who has been involved in many efforts to promote tourism in the region.

The main reason foreign airliners were unable to launch flights, he said, was because they had already exhausted the quotas allotted to them. While many of these foreign airliners were pushing the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation in this regard, he said that this was not a constraining factor for Air India.

As such, the Ministry must convince the national carrier to launch flights from Madurai to both the Far East and West Asia.

“Madurai would definitely be a profitable route for Air India and it should be the first to commence international operations to West Asia and Far East which will definitely boost educational, employment opportunities, industrial growth and tourism in the region.”

Madurai was second only to Chennai in attracting foreign tourists in Tamil Nadu. According to the data, in 2010, Chennai attracted 2,089 foreign tourists per day while Madurai came next with 701. Palani, Kodaikanal and Rameswaram, all in the vicinity of Madurai, also figure within the top six places in the list.

Dr. Vasudevan added that this was achieved when there was not even a single international flight from Madurai. The number of passports being issued every day by the Regional Passport Office in Madurai was 850 now with 25 per cent of them going to immediate travellers on the ‘Tatkal’ process.

Another major impediment to fully harnessing the potential of Madurai Airport was the lack of pre-paid taxis that could prevent fleecing of foreigners. He also called for creating a model village for artisans where they could demonstrate their art round the year to domestic and foreign tourists.

B.S.G. Musthafa, president of Travel Club, said that medical tourism was also thriving in Madurai with the presence of reputed hospitals. The city was also host to a number of educational institutions and international schools which cater to students from all parts of the country.

However, he expressed disappointment that in the recent summer schedule, Air India had left out Madurai while announcing direct international flights from various destinations in the country.

He also said that a meeting organised in October by Tamil expatriates in the United Arab Emirates, Air India officials were urged to introduce direct services from Madurai to Dubai, Muscat and Sharjah.

The meeting in Dubai was attended by C.H. Rambabu, Country Manager, Air India, U.A.E., Ashley Rebello, Sales Manager, Air India, T.H. Radhakrishnan, Airport Manager, Air India, Dubai, and N. Kannan, Airport Manager, Air India, Sharjah.

Representatives of Emirates Tamil Association, Dubai Tamil Sangam, Indian Muslims Association, Ameeraga Tamil Mandram, Vanilai Valar Tamil Mandram and Quaid-e-Milleth Peravai attended the meeting, which was convened with the intent of convincing Air India officials to introduce services to Madurai and increase frequency of operations to Tiruchi.

Approximately, Mr. Musthafa said, two lakh Tamils were residing at U.A.E. and were frequently travelling to southern Tamil Nadu. Direct services between U.A.E. and Madurai would cater to the requirements of a large number of expatriates from Tirunelveli, Tuticorin, Sivakasi, virudhunagar, Madurai, Dindigul, Karaikudi, Ramnathapuram, Paramakudi and Keezhakarai, speakers at the meeting said.

Air India officials had promised to consider their demands .

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