Tourist arrivals increased by 24.4 per cent in the past year beating all predictions and recessionary trends, Tourism and Registration Minister Suresh Rajan informed the Assembly on Tuesday.

Replying to the debate on the demands for grants for his department, he said that in 2009, the total domestic tourist arrival stood at 780.38 lakh while foreign tourists numbered 23.69 lakh. This totalled 804.07 lakh compared to 646.58 lakh in 2008 and 525 lakh in 2007. On an average, a domestic tourist spent five days in the State, and a foreign tourist, seven days.

The department had identified 18 lesser known tourist destinations for focussed development and to ease pressure on existing centres. Integrated development was being taken up at these places including Pulicat (Tiruvallur); Yelagiri; Thirukkadaiyur, Vedaranyam, Tranquebar and Thirumanancheri (all Nagapattinam); Sithannavasal (Pudukottai); Puliancholai (Tiruchi), Tharamangalam (Salem), Kolli Hills (Namakkal) and Valparai.

Central funds amounting to just over Rs.20 crore and over Rs.16 crore of State funds would be pumped into these areas.

The Minister said that HUDCO had submitted a tourism master plan to the government. Based on it, unique selling packages for various destinations would be finalised and facilities provided.

Under the Hill Area Development Programme, Rs.1 crore had been provided to develop facilities in the Nilgiris for promoting tourism. Works sanctioned in 2009-10 for the programme were progressing well.

The Minister said the government had given 24 hotels and 7 restaurants of the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation on franchise. It had approved the franchise deals of 31 hotels and 10 restaurants. The income would be utilised to upgrade other hotels and restaurants operated by TTDC.

The TTDC laid great emphasis on safety aspects in water sports and adventure sports, he said. Wearing of life jackets by tourists availing boating facilities in boat houses had been made mandatory. The TTDC planned to purchase 93 more boats and two 32-seat luxury cruises (to be operated between Pykara and Mudaliarkuppam). Wind surfing and sail boats would be introduced at Mudaliarkuppam.