TN tourist revenue at all time high-
But what about the city?
There is good news on the tourism front in Tamil Nadu. The state set a new record of sorts, earning Rs 5,430 crores in 2007 from foreign tourists. The increase is roughly 80% higher than the amount earned the previous year. A total of 17,53,000 foreigners visited the state last year, 31.3% higher than the previous year. The higher increase in spend vis-à-vis the increase in numbers indicates that per tourist spend is on the increase in the state which points to higher value added services. On the domestic tourist front too the state has clocked impressive figures. A whopping 506.47 lakh Indians from other states have visited Tamil Nadu last year, which is an increase of 28% over the previous year.
There are some interesting statistics in terms of geographic spread of tourists as well. Internationally, Sri Lankans top the list when it comes to Tamil Nadu as a destination with over 3.60 lakh arrivals last years. They are closely followed by people from Malaysia and Singapore. Residents of UK, USA and France have also made a beeline to the state in impressive numbers. As for Indian states, neighbouring Andhra sends in the maximum number of tourists with 39 lakh visitors last year. Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh follow in that order.
The state government is extremely pleased and is planning a slew of measures to improve amenities for visitors. A Rs 5.5 crore package has been announced for Vellore which is fast emerging as a tourist hub, the presence of the gold domed Sripuram temple being a major attraction. The tourism department has also analysed and found that tourists are going in large numbers to Gangaikondacholapuram, Mahabalipuram, Tanjavur and the wildlife sanctuaries in the state. What is interesting is that Chennai is completely absent from the list. The city, while serving as an entry and exit point is obviously not considered by most tourists as worthy of spending time. This excludes those who come in as part of health tourism in which case the city is an obvious destination.
Why is Chennai not a sight-seeing destination? Why does it not compare favourably with the other three metros of the country, all of which see tourists descending in large numbers and more importantly spending time within the city itself? The reasons are not far to seek.
- There are no printed brochures made available by the tourism department, with maps that have the places of tourist interest clearly marked out.
- The tourism department does not have a visible presence in the railway stations and the airport. Tourists who come into the city, therefore have to rely on taxi drivers for their information most of which is half-baked and often unreliable. Thus contrasts with most cities abroad and also against a much smaller city such as Hyderabad, where the old airport had an active tourism office for many years dedicated to city based sight-seeing.
- There is no single internet site from the tourism department which lists out the places worth seeing in the city.
- The city has over 20 museums, large and small and there is no organized booklet or any other method by which such information can be had. Compare with cities such as London. It is also worthwhile to see the success of small museums in Indian cities such as the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum in Pune and the Dolls Museum in Calcutta.
- There is simply no street signage near any monument in Chennai. Those who do not know anything about the city have simply no chance of going to see any place unless they are accompanied by an informed local resident.
- Most of the monuments and buildings are poorly maintained or are simply inaccessible to the public. To cite a few examples- the National Gallery has been closed for repairs for years, the Senate House is locked up and most parts of Fort St George are inaccessible. So what does that leave the tourist with? Temples and churches are the sole remaining choices and not many may want to have an itinerary exclusively dedicated to these. The beach therefore remains the only worthwhile destination.
- There are no organised guided tours of the city. Calcutta has one that has been in place for twenty five years and is booked weeks in advance. Can Chennai not rustle up something equivalent?
- The city is home now to a long festive season beginning with the music festival in November to the Chennai Sangamam in January. Can this not be marketed effectively? Two years ago there was an announcement that a consultant had been called in by the state government to submit a report on how to market this season. But since then nothing much has happened.
There are many ways in which the tourists can be made to stay in the city and spend time in it. But unless concerted efforts are taken up, this will never happen.