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Huge tourist potential remains untapped

Puducherry has emerged as a favourite tourist destination in the south, thanks to its pristine beaches and landscape. But many regular visitors to the city and those in the hospitality industry feel that there is tremendous potential to promote places of interest, which could fetch higher revenue to the government besides sustaining the growth of the tourism sector.

The region attracted 15,31,972 domestic and 1,31,407 foreign tourists in 2017.

The figure rose to 16,16,660 domestic tourists and 1,41,133 foreign tourists in 2018. Till October this year, 14,54,994 domestic and 1,39,359 foreign tourists visited the region.

The number of tourist arrival this year was expected to go up compared to last year. “This year, the October figure itself is high compared to previous years. With November and December being peak tourism season, we are expecting a record number of tourist inflow,” an official with Tourism Department said.

While in the domestic sector, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kerala, Chennai, Odisha, and West Bengal accounted for a big chunk of visitors, the foreign tourists were mostly from European countries, especially France, the official added.

Tourists and those in the hospitality industry feel the region has immense potential in terms of tourism, thanks to its cosmopolitan population and spiritual importance.

“It is one of the best weekend destinations. It’s beaches, French architecture, churches and temples are fascinating. Most importantly the safety aspect. We were there in the beach till late in the night,” says Srividya R, who works in a financial firm in Bengaluru She was here for a weekend along with her friends.

But the negative side, she says is that after a day’s visit there is nothing left to do.

“You can have a boat ride at Chunnambar. Otherwise, nothing else for entertainment. Also, it is very expensive to travel by autorickshaws. We spent ₹2,500 for travelling in autorickshaws during our two-day stay,” says her friend Ishwar Singh.

Pierre Duhard, a resident of Bordeaux in France, says street dogs, mosquitoes, and absence of platforms were irritants that needed to be addressed to make it a more pleasant experience for tourists. Like in Goa, cruise facility could be provided.

Leisure port

Robert Martin from Cap d’Agde in France says like the seaside leisure port in France, Puducherry too was an ideal location to promote beach entertainment. Without harming the environment, the government could promote recreational facilities on the vast beaches.

“The long coastline can be used for sustainable tourism activities which could attract a large number of tourists,” he says.

A regular visitor to the U.T., Mr Martin says traffic management left a lot to be desired. “It is the same roads and more vehicles,” according to him.

Many in the hospitality industry say tourists often complain about lack of activities and places to explore. Another main complaint has been the exploitation by autorickshaws.

Ganesh Ramamoorthy, general manager of TGI Grand, says the territorial administration should evolve a tourism policy to make the territory a week-long destination. Only then can the U.T. reap the benefits under the new tax regime.

Nasavai Shaikh of Indian Odyssey, a Mumbai-based travel agency, who regularly organises educational trips to Puducherry, says students often complained about non-availability of North Indian food.

“I am here with 40 students and teachers of Kohinoor International School in Kurla. After visiting Auroville and Chunnambar, I am entertaining students on the beach with some games. Nothing else for the kids to get involved or entertained,” he says.

Sampada Kumar Swain, head of the Department of Tourism, Pondicherry University, says the Promenade must be extended to Kalapet and activities such as scuba diving should be promoted. The administration should workout a plan to make the territory a destination for MICE.

Also, efforts should be made to enlist the Boulevard area as a Unesco heritage site, he says.

Cautious approach

However, his colleague Assistant Professor Anu Chandran has a word of caution. Tourism activities should not result in undermining the local ethos such as provision for slow and conscious travel, catholicity in outlook, symbols of Tamil and French culture and a hospitable local community.

According to sources, the government has submitted to the Centre projects to the tune of ₹250 crore this financial year. The Centre has given in- principle approval for projects to the tune of ₹110 crore.

The Cabinet has decided to invite private players to start offshore casinos and on-shore five-star hotels as revenue earners.

The government is keen on promoting tourism as there is no scope for setting up big industries, the official said.

While welcoming major projects, Zhivago K. Antony, a resident of Xavier Arokianathan Nagar in Muthialpet, says any government project should benefit all sections of local people, including small traders and hoteliers and bring revenue to the exchequer. But first, there should be a solution to the present traffic mess.