V. IRAI ANBU assumed charge as Secretary, Department of Tourism and Culture, Tamil Nadu, on January 2, 2007. Ever since, he has been working fervently to cash in on the vast tourism potential of the State, with special focus on lesser-known places and rural tourism. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:
Tamil Nadu is considered a safe destination for tourists. How do you plan to cash in on this?
Tamil Nadu is indeed a safe destination. That is why the State ranks No.3 in India in attracting both international and domestic tourists. We are trying to popularise lesser-known places so that we can distribute the tourists to all destinations up to their carrying capacity and preserve the ecology. An aggressive campaign to market these tourist spots, arranging tailor-made tour programmes, accommodating the personal preferences of tourists and participation in international tourism conferences are some of the steps we have taken to tap the tourism potential fully.
What steps are you taking to get repeat visitors?
We are trying to develop areas that were hitherto unknown. For instance, adventure tourism is being popularised for the first time, and we have opened an adventure complex on the Island Grounds in Chennai. We will soon open a complex at Mamallapuram and in other destinations later. We are providing water-scooters and speedboats in our boathouses at Muttukadu and Mudaliarkuppam [near Chennai] and paragliding at Yelagiri Hills. These adventure sports will definitely attract repeat visitors.
Organising more trade fairs and events can also help attract more tourists. We have revived the light and sound show at the Tirumalai Nayak palace in Madurai. We have introduced tourist-friendly autorickshaws.
How successful was your recent trip to China to promote the tourist spots of Tamil Nadu?
We went to Hangzhou in China to receive the Pacific Asia Travel Tourism (PATA) Gold Award, which was presented to the Tamil Nadu Tourism Department for its presentation and marketing of the heritage value of Mamallapuram. We participated in a road show and presented the various tourism features of the State. All travel writers appreciated the plans to promote lesser-known tourist spots.
Our approach is not to market Tamil Nadu as only a land of temples.
How far have your efforts to popularise lesser-known places as tourists spots succeeded? What are the facilities available at Yelagiri Hills, Kolli Hills, Kazhugumalai and Tranquebar? There is a perception that only parks are being set up in these places.
We have provided Rs.30 crore in the past three years to develop lesser-known places as tourist destinations. We have submitted proposals to the Government of India to get more grants to promote them. Our idea is to decongest well-known tourist destinations such as Ooty and Kodaikanal.
We have improved the roads to and at lesser-known destinations, installed lighting, desilted ponds, provided parking space and arranged transport facilities. At Yelagiri Hills, we have built a Yatri Niwas and entrusted its maintenance to the tribal people.
We have announced a capital subsidy of 10 per cent to those who come forward to build facilities amusement parks, hotels, and so on for tourists. The subsidy is available up to Rs.1 crore.
The government is not interested in creating income-generating facilities. On the other hand, it would like to provide basic infrastructure. Facilities can be provided by private entrepreneurs. Tourism destinations such as Kolli Hills, Taramangalam near Salem, Tirukadaiyur, Tharangambadi and Thiruparappu [waterfalls in Kanyakumari district] have been given priority in the allocation of funds so as to make them self-sufficient in infrastructure.
What initiatives have you been taking to promote rural tourism?
Promoting rural tourism involves a willingness by the local people to participate in the venture. A few places such as Chettinad are being promoted by the Tamil Nadu Tourism Department. Rural tourism was the theme of our trade fair in Chennai last year. The rural tourism project at Thandarai, near Mamallapuram, was adjudged the best project in 2007 by the Government of India.
At Karamadai [near Coimbatore], the Forest Department has done excellent work to promote tribal tourism. We are trying to liaise with the Forest Department to provide jungle lodges in peripheral forest areas.
What are your plans to discourage day-trippers who swarm to Ooty and Kodaikanal during summer?
I agree with you that a lot of problems arise when congestion takes place in a particular tourist spot. Ooty and Kodaikanal offer tourists many avenues for entertainment. Unless a hill station has attractive features to satisfy different age groups, it may not become popular. The only way to reduce overcrowding is to provide alternatives. We are in that process.
What is the response to the hop-on, hop-off tours introduced in Chennai?
We have started with two tours one within Chennai and another to the tourist spots on the East Coast Road. A tourist may find it difficult to get a taxi to go to all these places in a day. He may not be able to engage an informed guide too.
There are 14 tourist spots in the hop-on, hop-off tour on the East Coast Road. If a tourist is not interested in visiting a temple, he can skip it and spend more time in an amusement park. He can either visit all these places or he can spend time in one place. The tourists get 25 per cent concession for entry into amusement parks. We give them free boat rides at Muttukadu. The ticket is valid for 24 hours. They can even stay overnight at Mamallapuram and return the next day.
We are not operating hop-on, hop-off tours for profit. We are doing it as a service to enable people to travel to different destinations and enjoy themselves.