TN focusing on niche tourism themes: Minister

Identifying niche tourism themes, unveiling a tourism policy and skilling of people working in the sector, are some of the priorities of doctor-turned-politician and Tamil Nadu Tourism Minister, M Mathiventhan. In an interview with The Hindu, he shares plans to revive the sector, which was among the most affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Excerpts:

Updated - March 10, 2022 10:37 pm IST

Published - March 10, 2022 05:33 pm IST

Tamil Nadu Tourism Minister M. Mathiventhan.

Tamil Nadu Tourism Minister M. Mathiventhan. | Photo Credit: R. Ragu

You took over as Tourism Minister at a time when the tourism sector was bleeding due to the global novel coronavirus pandemic and travelling was restricted. What were the challenges and your immediate priorities?

The Tourism Department was worst hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic. People were not travelling and domestic and international travel came to a halt. The revenue earned from international visitation dropped severely. The state witnessed a drop of 77% in domestic tourist arrivals in 2021 as compared to 2019 and a drop of 99% in foreign tourist arrivals in 2021 as compared to 2019. Our immediate priority was to plan what next? We immediately formulated a tourism destination development scheme. Under this scheme, we have identified new destinations in the state. The focus of the scheme will be on up-gradation of existing amenities and developing these locations. We are also working on a tourism policy.

How many such locations have you identified?

We have shortlisted around 354 such sites – of this 31 are sites maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), 15 are coastal sites, 32 hill stations, 128 Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments Department administered temples and 38 natural trails. We have also zeroed in on cottage industry and greenfield sites. As a part of the project, adventure activities will be introduced at identified sites. To begin with the department is planning to set up eco camping sites at Kolli hills and Jawadhu hills.

There is a view that Tamil Nadu is promoting same old routine locations. Today’s Generation Z have a taste for very unique places – what do you have to offer them?

Tamil Nadu has huge untapped potential for promotion and development of niche tourism concepts like ecotourism, wellness tourism, beach tourism, wildlife tourism, rural tourism and adventure tourism. These niche tourism themes are being actively promoted on various digital media platforms. We are strengthening our social media [presence and engagement]. We have roped in bloggers and influencers who visit unnoticed places and promote them. Plans are on to host a balloon festival in Tamil Nadu. Our teams visited the balloon festival in Mexico and we want to do the same in the state. We also welcome anyone willing to host such festivals or events pertaining to tourism and we will be happy to align with them. Efforts are being made to develop and promote ferry tourism, seaplane tourism and caravan tourism. We are working on cruise tourism from Chennai to Colombo and this will go live soon.

You also mentioned about a policy – can you elaborate?

A tourism policy will be rolled out soon. The policy aims to confer industry status to the tourism sector. Some of focus areas of the policy will be – infrastructure, branding, community and local development, investor facilitation and skilling. We also want to ensure that all associations and private players are aligned under one umbrella (get them tourism accredited). We are planning to get all of them registered so that we can work together.

Infrastructure at tourist spots continue to remain poor and the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation’s hotel properties, situated in strategic locations, have lost charm and youngsters don’t seem to be opting this as a destination for staying...

We are working on infrastructure issues and are also in talks with local bodies under which tourism sites fall. We are working on this and with COVID-19, it is taking time to materialise. With regards to Tamil Nadu [TTDC] hotels….We are taking efforts to renovate and upgrade. Many of these hotels are under lease and we are looking at operating it by ourselves once the lease period is over. there are 53 hotels and of this 28 are run by TTDC while 25 are franchised. We are also renovating the restaurants housed inside these hotels and are planning to come out with names for these restaurants. Most big hotels have unique names for their restaurants, we are looking at something like that. We are tying up with online aggregators and people can now book our hotels from a slew of online portals.

You had plans to tie up with Tamil Nadu Skill Development Corporation for skilling – Can you share some details?

We will come out with tailored programs to skill people in this sector. Details on short term courses will be hosted on the Tamil Nadu tourism website. The success of hospitality industry depends on skilled manpower. We want to enhance the entire ecosystem so that it can generate revenue for the department and boost economic growth for others as well.

A lot of tourist guides have lost jobs, many hotels and spaces for accommodation have wound up in the last two years. How has this impacted the tourism sector?

Yes, there were job losses and business losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year in June, the Finance Minister announced guarantee/collateral free loan guarantee scheme for the tourism sector. The Ministry of Tourism also launched loan guarantee scheme for COVID affected tourism services sector (LGSCATSS). The scheme aims at extending loan to the distressed tourism sector to help them discharge their liabilities and restart their business affected due to the pandemic.

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