According to the India Tourism Statistics 2022 report, Tamil Nadu ranked first in domestic tourist arrivals in 2021 and also reflected good numbers in international arrivals, albeit, there was a slump in inbound travel. With a great mix of ancient civilization, heritage, rich history and culture, grand temples, colorful festivals, vibrant art forms, urban disposition, and natural beauty, Tamil Nadu has carved a unique position for itself as one of India’s most-visited destinations. The Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC) is optimistic about more tourist footfalls into the state as they are giving impetus to many tourism initiatives and laying special focus on improving infrastructures and amenities. In this exclusive interview with TTJ, Sandeep Nanduri, IAS, Director of Tourism and Managing Director, TTDC, shares how they are promoting Tamil Nadu in the domestic and international arena and the initiatives taken to strengthen the state to become a much more fascinating travel destination than it is.
– Prashant Nayak
Q. What kind of domestic and international footfalls has Tamil Nadu witnessed in the year 2022 until now? Has your State been able to take advantage of the potential of trends like revenge travel and staycations?
Tamil Nadu has experienced significant domestic and international footfalls in 2022, demonstrating the state’s appeal as a tourist destination. The emergence of new trends like ‘revenge travel’ and ‘staycations’ has been leveraged effectively, alongside the rise in domestic tourism. To revive the travel industry and meet the evolving consumer behaviour, the Department of Tourism has redesigned the official website to enhance user-friendliness and responsiveness. The department has also actively promoted its offerings on social media platforms through influencer marketing campaigns like Discover Tamil Nadu, staying ahead of the trend curve and creating awareness.
In 2021, Tamil Nadu contributed 17.02 per cent to India’s domestic tourism, attracting over 115 million visitors and maintaining its top position in domestic tourism for six out of the past seven years. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, domestic tourism in Tamil Nadu has shown a steady recovery, with visitor numbers reaching around 45 per cent of pre-pandemic levels in 2022.
In terms of international tourism, Tamil Nadu ranked second in Foreign Tourist Visits in 2021, with 1.23 million foreign visitors. The state’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, particularly the Group of Monuments at Mamallapuram, were popular among foreign tourists.
The Department of Tourism has focused on segmenting the target audience on digital platforms and organising engaging activities like WoW Tamil Nadu and MyTNMyHeritage. Additionally, the state has been proactive in uncovering hidden attractions and launching diverse tour packages to promote tourism.
Q. What are the new experiences and initiatives your state has developed to leverage tourism in the state?
The Department of Tourism in Tamil Nadu has implemented various new experiences and initiatives to enhance tourism in the state. The objective of these initiatives is to provide standardised tourism services to visitors. Schemes have been launched to register operators in categories such as Bed and Breakfast Establishments, Caravan Tours, Adventure Tours, and Camping operators, ensuring high-quality services. Additionally, plans are underway to register travel agents and tour operators in the future.
The department is currently developing a comprehensive tourism policy, with a focus on launching services like Caravan tourism, Heli tourism, Ecotourism, and Plantation tourism. The department organises various events and festivals to showcase the state’s culture and heritage, including the Indian Dance Festival, International Kite Festival, International Balloon Festival, and more.
To promote niche tourism, Tamil Nadu offers Medical and Wellness Tourism, Coastal tourism, Eco and Wildlife tourism, Heritage and Pilgrimage tourism, Caravan Tourism, and Culinary Tourism. Moreover, adventure and eco-camping sites are being established in off-beat destinations like Kolli Hills, Jawadhu Hills, Yelagiri, Vathalmalai, Muthukuda, and Muthupettai.
Q. What are your thoughts on the current inbound tourism scenario? How is Tamil Nadu working to attract foreign tourists?
Tamil Nadu’s tourism sector is focused on three key objectives: increasing international and domestic footfall, generating foreign exchange earnings, and providing world-class services for tourists. To achieve these goals and to showcase the state’s tourism potential, Tamil Nadu Tourism participated in major events like ITB Berlin 2023, World Travel Mart London, International Balloon Festival in Mexico, and World Expo 2020 Dubai.
The Tourism Department showcases Tamil Nadu’s cultural heritage and tourist attractions at international travel marts, where hoteliers, tour operators, and travel agents from the state actively participate. Roadshows and promotional events have also been organised to boost tourism globally. Furthermore, Tamil Nadu has great potential for medical tourism, with Chennai being the “Health capital of India”. The state conducted a Medical Tourism Summit to connect key stakeholders in the industry across the globe.
Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tamil Nadu ranked second in foreign tourist visits in 2021, with the Group of Monuments at Mamallapuram being the most visited heritage site among foreign tourists. The state continues to attract visitors from countries like the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada, and China.
Q. Tamil Nadu Tourism participated in ITB Berlin this time. How was the response?
The response at ITB Berlin was positive, with the department holding B2B meetings with various stakeholders and receiving two awards at the PATWA International Travel Awards. Following the event, a meeting was held with a delegation from the Czech Republic to explore collaboration opportunities, including B2B partnerships, tailor-made tour packages, cultural exchanges, and workshops on heritage monument management. Collaboration with the Czech Republic’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has further strengthened its global presence. These efforts aim to strengthen the collaboration between Tamil Nadu and the Czech Republic and increase tourism flow between the regions.
Q. What are your marketing and communication strategies to promote tourism in Tamil Nadu in the forthcoming years?
To stay ahead of the trends and spread awareness of its services, the Tamil Nadu Tourism Department actively promotes its offerings on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram through influencer marketing campaigns such as Discover Tamil Nadu. Meticulous segmentation is done to target specific audiences on the digital platform, and campaigns like WoW Tamil Nadu and MyTNMyHeritage are curated as engagement activities for the target audiences. Also, the Department has launched diverse and distinctive tour packages and user-interactive features as a part of promoting tourism from the marketing and communication strategies perspective.
Q. How is your state working on responsible and sustainable tourism, which is now the focus of all kinds of tourism initiatives?
The Department of Tourism actively endeavours to develop sustainable tourism destinations in Tamil Nadu. For this, the department launched a “Tourism Destination Development Scheme” to facilitate the integrated and holistic development of the destinations. The Tourism Policy envisaging tourism development at destinations focusing on economic, social, and environmental sustainability has been drafted. The Department of Tourism has taken a few effective measures in destinations like the Blue Flag Beach in Kovalam where the beach management committee has established facilities to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, while efforts to maintain water quality and promote environmental education have been diligently carried out. The department has also taken a few measures in places like Mannavanur in Kodaikanal, and Kurusadai Island in the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park.
Q. To attract investment in the State, what are the tourism initiatives taken by your department?
Since the pandemic, travellers who have been largely confined to their homes for months have shifted their travel patterns to emphasise sustainability, health and wellness, and community-based tourism. Thus, to recover the tourism sector, the Department of Tourism has taken various initiatives by driving collaboration with various private networks. The state organised and participated in numerous travel marts, trade fairs, and exhibitions regionally and globally. The notable ones are the 2nd virtual edition of Travel, Tourism, and Hospitality E- Conclave, International Tourism Conclave and Travel Awards (ITCTA), Travel and Tourism Fair (TTF) Kolkata and Ahmedabad, World Travel Mart London, SATTE, India International Travel Mart Chennai and Indian International Trade Mart New Delhi.
Also, Tamil Nadu Tourism has developed a comprehensive draft tourism policy that offers several subsidies and incentives to projects in focus sectors as a measure to attract investments. These initiatives helped achieve the objective of boosting the developmental activities of the tourism department, which in turn, will reflect on the sector’s economy with trade exchanges, new brand collaborations, and expanding the travel trade network.