Significant rise in number of visitors to Temple City
MADURAI: The quintessential Tamil harvest festival of ‘Pongal’ brings smiles not only to the agrarian community as it is the first harvest for the year but also for those dependent on tourism in Madurai.
Over the years, as data from the Department of Tourism testifies, the number of tourists visiting the Temple City for witnessing the four-day celebrations has gone up.
Says Tourist Officer, K. Dharmaraj, “While nearly 300 foreign tourists witnessed last year’s Pongal celebrations here, this year we expect nearly 500.” Reeling out further statistics, he said that while 16,000 foreigners came to Madurai during 2005, nearly 23,000 came in 2006.
Last year (2007), more than 27,000 came to Madurai till November, he says, adding that it could have touched 30,000 by now. “Madurai is one of the important tourist attractions in India for foreigners with the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple and King Tirumalai Nayak Palace being major draws.”
According to the Collector, S.S. Jawahar, new destinations are being developed to provide tourists with more options. Rural tourism holds out immense promise with a few villages having been chosen for carrying out development works. Developing Madurai as a tourist-friendly place is a priority, he says.
The areas surrounding the Meenakshi temple have been completely spruced up with grass lawns and paver tiles coming up to cater to the hygiene-conscious foreign nationals, adds Mr. Dharmaraj. The work is partly funded by Tourism Department and executed by the Corporation.
Planning ahead of schedule is a must to attract foreigners, G. Vasudevan, former president of Travel Club says, as foreigners put together their vacation plans at least six months in advance. “Kerala (Government) has put up in its website all the important festivals that take place in various districts for the next five years,” he points out.
Making foreign tourists to stay longer here is a challenge that could only be met by keeping them engaged. “We can organise dinners in the majestic halls of Mahal (King Tirumalai Nayak Palace). The ambience there is excellent and the Government can also charge good money,” suggests Dr. Vasudevan.
Foreigners are also attracted by village way of life, something that can be packaged for the tourists. “We can take them to farms and show how crops are harvested. We can also show them the scripts in Jain vestiges here and explain to them how important they are to the present form of Tamil language.”
In the end, it is all about packaging, he says, adding that in these times when the competition is global in nature, proactive measures are the need of the hour.