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Tuesday, Feb 05, 2002

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Tourism: Study scripts a Southside story

C.R. Sukumar


DESPITE having the advantage of a variety in offerings, South India as a tourist destination has failed to draw many visitors owing to a predominant image as a `temple destination'.

This observation was a part of a study on tourism in South India, conducted jointly by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and A.F. Ferguson & Co.

Among the southern States, which account for 45 per cent of total domestic arrivals in India, Andhra Pradesh is predominantly a religious destination, Tamil Nadu a mixed bag of heritage and religion, Kerala a predominantly nature tourism and Karnataka is a mixed preference of heritage and nature.

In the case of foreign arrivals, Tamil Nadu alone accounts for more than 60 per cent of arrivals into the South, thanks to Chennai, the gateway to South India. South accounts for 21 per cent of the overall international travellers in India.

As a conscious decision, Kerala has been focussing less on numbers and more on value per arrival through extended stay and more expense per arrival.

The scenario in Andhra Pradesh for foreign arrivals is not encouraging when compared to the domestic arrivals scenario where it is the highest among the Southern States.

According to the FICCI-Ferguson study, strengths of southern India as tourist destination include strong heritage and culture value, home to several important pilgrim centres, abundance of nature-based tourism, diversity of offering, common binding force due to similar culture across the four States, literate and tourist-friendly population and finally, security in terms of law and order.

However, the south suffers serious weaknesses such as lack of direct flight connections for international travellers, lack of infrastructure in terms of connectivity of far-flung destinations within the States, lack of uniform taxation structure across Southern States and relatively high taxation rates in some of the States.

"Though a significant proportion of tourists in the South are pilgrim tourists, the fact remains that the South offers a wide variety of destinations.

The offerings in South can be packaged in line with international trends to exploit the vast untapped potential existing here.

The diversity of South India is its USP. It has a relatively weak positioning when individual destinations are compared globally,'' the study points out while favouring a collaborative approach towards promoting South as a single destination.

With global tourism trends indicating a shift towards experimental, ethnic, culture and eco-tourism, South India has an opportunity to capitalise on its rich product composition and attract a higher proportion of international tourists, the study suggests.

However, on the absence of effective connectivity, the study points out that the major points of entry into the South — Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kochi — have very limited connectivity to international hubs apart from South-East Asia and the Middle East.

"This substantially limits the potential of these States to tap tourists from other international locations. Air connectivity from these hubs to interior locations such as Vizag, Madurai, Kozhikode, Coimbatore and Managalore is also very limited.

The diversity of the tourist offering which clusters around these locations remains off the map of several potential tourists.''

Towards realising the vision of a `Unified South', the study recommends that it is necessary to identify a suitable positioning for South India tourism and change conventional perceptions.

"A contemporary image will help South India break away from the conventional reliance on only the known strengths of culture and heritage to what is actually is - a region of tremendous diversity. Its true image, obscured till now, is also actually the preferred contemporary image — of an area preserving enormous ecological balance, and one which will attract several interest groups of the right demographic profile to the South,'' the study opines.

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Tourism: Study scripts a Southside story

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