Not too long ago, Indian tourism was mostly concentrated in north India; the golden triangle was supreme, and Rajasthan was king. Then along came Kerala with its "God's Own Country" campaign and suddenly, there was more than one focus for tourists coming to India.
Arup Sen, executive director, Cox&Kings, says this "dramatic shift" is the result of "southern states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka playing a more active role in tourism promotion".
Even five years ago, says Himmat Anand, COO, India and South Asia, Kuoni Destination Management, inbound traffic to south India constituted only 15-20 per cent of total arrivals to India. Since then, it has crept up to 40-45 per cent. "A 50:50 situation might be imminent."
Infrastructure in south India is gearing up to cater to this enhanced inflow much better than in the north. "South India has been marketed better, and now commands a price. This is one reason why infrastructure is being developed here on such a large scale," says Sunirmol Ghosh, MD, Indo-Asia Tours.
All hotel brands, Indian and international, are looking at the south. True, the boom in IT in many southern cities is the reason for this, but the new rooms will surely help tourism.
Tourist groups now land directly in Bangalore, says Ghosh, and then travel to either Mysore or Halebid in Karnataka. There are six international airports in the south, compared to only one major airport in the north, in Delhi, and two smaller ones at Amritsar and Jaipur.
The two greenfield airports at Hyderabad and Bangalore, due to open soon, should also bring in more tourists directly to this area. A number of international airlines are vying to land in the south.
Ten years back, a south India trip would have meant Chennai, Madurai, Kochi and Periyar, but today Tamil Nadu and Kerala are destinations in their own right. People come to Kerala for its ayurveda. Newer destinations too are getting popular -- for example, Chettinad and Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu. In fact, Rameshwaram is being developed as a beach and diving destination.
The CGH Earth group is working on a resort there; in fact, most places in India where beach resorts can come up are in the south. In Karnataka, with the new Bangalore airport, destinations like Hampi, Gulbarga, Mysore, Halebid should pick up. The state is also planning to launch a luxury train.
The picture, though, is not all rosy. While Karnataka is emerging, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa have lagged behind. The issue, says Ghosh, is not that there are no destinations but that these are not effectively packaged and marketed. Orissa also has the problem of connectivity.
If FICCI's plan to market the whole of south India as a composite destination does take off, the south could really give the north a run for its tourist revenue -- and dollars.