For years, the heritage sites around Chennai, the beaches and shopping deals have been major attractions for tourists. Tapping the cultural appetite of foreign tourists and shopping needs of Indians, the city continues to attract tourists across the globe.

Residents of Chennai, on the other hand, flip through guidebooks to plan their vacation to newer places. This summer seems to be the season of journeying for people with wanderlust.

Nature walks, treks and hiking are no more jargon that travellers alone use. Travelling to foreign countries has become the norm and travel expenses have found their way into the annual budget of many families.

Lakshmi Mohan, a resident of Neelankarai, recalled that there were no options of ticket reservation about three decades ago. “I used to visit only my native village every year then. Now, I plan pilgrimage and holiday to other States without much trouble,” she said.

As the travel planning begins this month, the demand for train and flight tickets soar. This year, Southern Railway has introduced 488 special trains from the city to different places. Of this, 179 are in April and 189 in May. The maximum trains are between Chennai and Nagercoil with 228, followed by trains to Trivandrum and Bangalore.

An additional 200 trains have been introduced from other cities to Chennai. Every year, the growth rate of passenger traffic is increasing by 10 per cent, a railway official said. Buses are in also in great demand.

Sparing travellers the trouble of ticket bookings, tour packages come with well-planned travel options. Last year if many had curtailed their expenditure on travel citing recession, this year it is plans galore.

“The Ministry of Tourism has also drawn up a policy to revive the sluggish tourism industry by announcing 2009-10 as ‘Visit India Year.' Roadshows were conducted in 24 cities to bring the back zeal of tourism,” said Indian Association of Tour Operators president Vijay Thakur.

Traditionally, a holiday in the fourth quarter is more expensive than other seasons and summer vacation, generally, works out to be within the budget for many. Summer booking starts from January for the April to June season but some early birds make their booking in December to get the best airfare deals. “Last year, tour operators saw good volumes in their business but did not make money. However, this April-May we are expecting to see a growth of 35 per cent from last year's 25-30 per cent,” says R. Anantha Krishna Gupta, Hon Secretary, Travel Agents Association of India (Southern Region).

However, what is going to play a major role on many travellers pocket are the air fares. “The domestic fares have increased by 20 to 25 per cent than last year,” he added.

While Malaysia and Singapore draw people round the year with a slew of festivals, Europe and the U.S. are popular this time for their weather. The honeymoon customer segment prefers holidaying in Mauritius or Maldives. The younger lot chooses places in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. In the domestic market, Kerala seems to be the favourite, followed by Ooty, Kodaikanal and a few pockets in north India.

For a family of three, a four-day stay in Sri Lanka comes at Rs. 40,000. The country is among the most reasonable international trip one can plan, says Charanya Ramesh, Executive Director, Shakti Tours and Travels. South East Asia is a preferred market for most south Indians as it is less expensive to travel from Chennai and visas are easily available.

With its strong cultural pedigree, the city, too, manages to attract steady inflow of art-loving tourists year after year. The spill-over effect is strongly felt during vacation when small shops in places such as Mamallapuram get smartened up to make their best out of the brisk season. Hotels, on their part, are gearing up to draw tourists with a promise of first-rate customer service.

City hotels also receive the most number of visitors in February and summer months. Radha Regent's Food and Beverage Manager G. Raveendhra Kumar said that while 60 per cent of the clientele are from abroad, summer is the time when people from north India flow in for long days of stay.

(With inputs from S. Aishwarya, Liffy Thomas and K. Lakshmi)

What they say

A.C. Mohandoss, TTDC Managing Director: There has been 24 per cent growth in the rate of tourist inflow in the last year and we expect it to rise further this year. Our online promotional initiatives have proved to be a hit. We see an increase in online hotel and package bookings. We are strengthening our infrastructure in tourist spots and periodically revamping the places to make it more tourist-friendly.

Sruti Harihara Subramanian, traveller: For couples, travelling together is a good way to catch up with each other. As both my husband and I have erratic work schedules, we plan our holiday and duration of our trips accordingly. We take a few short trips and at least two long trips abroad in a year. People touring in groups may get a better deal. But I prefer to travel on my own and research on the internet before planning a trip.

S. Christe Raajan, Chairman (Southern Region), Travel Agents Association of India: Tourism is certainly looking up post recession and the industry is hoping to see a good summer, both in terms of volume and profit. For the tour operators, the period between April and June is a time for brisk business and they popularise family tours. Of late, we also see more families opting for international tours as the rates of packages are coming down and some tour packages come with attractive cash discounts.

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