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http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/article2723702.ece

18 December 2011

R. Sairam, Madurai:


The ongoing protests in the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border over the Mullaperiyar Dam issue has hit the tourism sector hard with tour operators and hotels reporting cancellations in the range of 70 to 80 per cent during a period that is supposed to be the peak tourism season.

Unless resolved at the earliest, stake holders in and around Madurai, the gateway to south Tamil Nadu for tourists, fear a permanent damage to the tourism- friendly image will of the State. For long, one of the major unique selling propositions of south India has been its secure environment as several major tourism destinations in northern and western parts of India such as Mumbai and New Delhi constantly receive terrorism threats. The peaceful image of the south is under threat owing to the violence that had broken out at border.

G. Vasudevan, Director of Hotel Fortune Pandiyan and past president of the Travel Club here, told The Hindu that till now, tourism had been one of the few bright spots in the economy as despite a severe recession in the western countries, inflow of foreign tourists into India had been fairly constant.

Tamil Nadu saw around 30 lakh foreign tourists in 2010 with 35,000 visiting Madurai. The Temple City also attracts around 64 lakh domestic tourists a year, generating considerable economic activity that benefited various sectors.

The impact of current drop in tourist's inflow was being felt not only by hotels but thousands dependent on the tourism sector such as autorickshaw and taxi drivers, guides and artisans who sell handicrafts. The protestors must take up their grievances legitimately without indulging in violence, said Dr. Vasudevan, who has been involved in several efforts to promote tourism in southern districts in the recent years.

Terming the current situation as being unparalleled in the past several years, K. Muralidharan, General Manager of GRT Regency Hotel, said that if the unrest continued, the economic viability of big hotels would be threatened. “The overall expenditure had increased by 25 per cent this year but business is down this year as protests have occurred during the peak season for tourists arrival.”

He pointed out that the South India itinerary of most domestic and international tourists would begin in Chennai, proceed through Madurai and Thekkadi and culminate in Kochi from where the foreign tourists would fly out.

Srinith De Silva, General Manager, Heritage Madurai, said, “A majority of the groups have cancelled their bookings for December. Bookings are also down for January which usually sees high occupancy rate owing to ‘Jallikattu,' popular among foreign tourists.”

The tourism sector stake holders said that these concerns would also be felt acutely in Kerala which, in 2010 alone, received more than six lakh foreign tourists and earned Rs. 37.97 billion in foreign exchange.