History, heritage and healthcare are just some of the reasons Chennai is one of the most visited cities in the country. In 2009, Chennai attracted the highest number of foreign tourists, with its temples, beaches and historical and cultural centres. For many foreigners, there is also the draw of learning Tamil and visiting places such as Mammallapuram.
"Foreign tourist arrivals saw an impressive 40% increase in the first half of this year compared to the corresponding period last year," says tourism secretary V Irai Anbu. Chennai also serves as the gateway to the rest of the south with tourists landing here and heading out in search of rolling grasslands, dense sholas, breathtaking waterfalls, picturesque tea plantations, spectacular mountains, fabulo us trekking trails, ancient temples and heritage sites.
While foreign tourists contributed about Rs 20,000 crore to the state economy last year, domestic tourism brought in around Rs 5,500 crore. Close cultural links are probably the reason for Sri Lankans continuing to top the list of foreigners coming to Chennai, followed by visitors fromMalaysia and Singapore. The UK, France and US follow in terms of highest number of foreign tourist arrivals.
But not all tourists treat Chennai as a mere stopover. The city has its own appeal with the beaches and resorts along the East Coast Road being a major draw. "We conduct hop-on, hop-off tours that touch Marudeeswarar Temple, VGP Golden Beach, MGM Dizzee World, DakshinChitra, Muttukadu, Thiruvidanthai temple, Crocodile Bank, and Mammallapuram, which are major attractions," says A Chittaranjan Mohandoss, MD, Tamil Nadu tourism development corporation(TTDC).
The Union tourism ministry says Tamil Nadu had 23.7 lakh international tourists in 2009, Maharashtra followed with 20 lakh, and Delhi with 19.6 lakh.
The statistics also show that TN attracted the third highest number of domestic tourists in 2009. Andhra Pradesh topped the list, thanks to the Tirumala temple, and Uttar Pradesh was second.
"During the first half of 2010, the state recorded a 26% growth in domestic tourist arrivals compared to the corresponding period last year," said Mohandoss, adding that safety in Tamil Nadu was a major reason for this growth. The highest number of domestic visitors are from Andhra Pradesh followed by Karnataka, Kerala, West Bengal and Bihar.
Chennai is also a Mecca for medical tourism. TTDC has identified Meditour India, a voluntary non-profit medical organisation, as the nodal agency to promote wellness tourism. The organisation comprises medical practitioners, tourism department officials and representatives of the health department. TTDC also provides guides to accompany foreigners seeking medical care.