Mamallapuram has been receiving steady flow of foreign tourists throughout the year

Tamil Nadu remains an all-season destination for tourists – backpackers heading for the beaches, the city-bred searching for that rural experience, the devout seeking spiritual solace in myriad temples, the ones bound for hill stations to escape the blazing sun, or those arriving for treatment.

More than 14 crore tourists visited Tamil Nadu during 2011, marking a 42.34 per cent increase over the previous year in which the State played host to 10.58 crore visitors.

According to the State Tourism Department's data, the flow of foreign tourists into the State was 33.08 lakh last year as against 28.04 lakh in 2010. Domestic tourists accounted for 13.67 crore in 2011 against 10.30 crore the previous year. Since 2008, the domestic tourists' arrivals have doubled while that of foreign visitors has gone up by 50 per cent.

“The number represents a 10 per cent increase over the corresponding period in the previous year. It could have been much more but for the fact that the State faced Assembly and civic polls, frequent change of officers in the tourism department and delay in announcing tourism-related promotional activities,” said a senior official.

Talking to The Hindu, some of the leading travel operators said: “These figures reinforce the fact that Tamil Nadu is an all-season destination whether for beach tourism, rural tourism, health tourism or leisure tourism. If we continue to post 30 per cent growth in tourists' arrival, we can definitely reach the topmost slot in tourists' arrival.”

Out of the 14 crore tourists, Chennai received about 1.29 crore, including 6.68 lakh foreigners, followed by Rameswaram 97.58 lakh, Madurai (84.93 lakh), Tiruvannamalai (81.05 lakh) and Kodaikanal (79.10 lakh).

Well-known hill stations such as Udhagamandalam and Coonoor played hosts to 77 lakh visitors. Interestingly, lesser known tourist spots are getting more number of domestic and foreign tourists. Yercaud was visited by 39.33 lakh, Yelagiri received 5.90 lakh visitors and Hogenakkal played host to 56.68 lakh people.

Mamallapuram has been receiving a steady flow of foreign tourists throughout the year. About 300 foreigners visited Mamallapuram daily to witness the December-January Music and dance festival. In all, the shore temple collectively received 32.47 lakh visitors.

Secondary cities such as Tiruchi received 63.25 lakh, Coimbatore 60.35 lakh and Salem 64.34 lakh visitors.

Foreigners also visited temple towns in big numbers. Rameswaram and Madurai were the preferred destination for the local and foreign visitors.

Due to improved rail link, Tiruchendur received 77.99 lakh pilgrims, followed closely by Thanjavur that received 57.12 lakh visitors. The other destinations were Palani (57.59 lakh), Kumbakonam (53.90 lakh), Kancheepuram (44.41 lakh), Velankanni, Chidambaram, Nagore and Tirutani.

Kanyakumari was visited by 73.25 lakh visitors. Poompuhar, Panchalankuruchi, Pichavaram, Mudumalai and Courtallam were also frequented by visitors.

Tourism-friendly measures

“The State government has been announcing tourism-friendly measures at several pilgrim centres. But their implementation has to be speeded up. Though the tourism department runs boat-houses in different parts of the State, it has to promote adventure and water sports too, on the lines of its neighbours, to attract more tourists to lesser-known spots. Currently, the void is filled by private operators in and around Chennai,” a leading tourist operator said.

In all probability, Tamil Nadu may retain its second spot in the country in attracting foreign tourists. However, the official rankings will be released only after a few months.