MUMBAI: Where do Indians travel when they have the time, money and inclination to explore their own country? No, not to Goa; not even to 'god's own country' Kerala. The number one domestic travel destination for Indians, believe it or not, is Andhra Pradesh.
Over the past three years, most Indians have headed to Andhra, especially to Tirupati. Uttar Pradesh comes a formidable second, thanks to Agra's Taj Mahal.
In recently released data, the market research division of the Union tourism ministry said: "During 2009, the number of domestic tourist visits to various states was 650 million (65 crore), as compared to 563 million (56.3 crore) in 2008 and 527 million (52.7 crore) in 2007." With the young and the middle class getting more mobile, the ministry predicts that the domestic market will grow at a healthy clip of 20% in 2010.
The ministry added, "The top 10 states in terms of number of domestic tourist visits during 2009 were Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Gujarat." Put together, these states accounted for 88% of the total number of domestic tourist visits in 2009.
While 15.75 crore Indian tourists visited Andhra in 2009, UP and Tamil Nadu received 13.48 crore and 11.57 crore visitors respectively. In distant fourth, fifth and sixth place were Karnataka (3.27 crore), Rajasthan (2.55 crore) and Maharashtra (2.37 crore), respectively. Maharashtra's domestic tourist base has steadily grown, from 1.92 crore in 2007. Interestingly, while most states saw a steady increase in tourists, Karnataka saw a huge dip -- from 3.78 crore in 2007 to 1.28 crore in 2008 -- but bounced back in 2009. Rajasthan has had a see-saw ride, going from 2.59 crore to 2.83 crore and 2.55 crore in 2007, 2008 and 2009 respectively.
These figures contrast starkly with states known for being popular tourist haunts. Himachal Pradesh, with attractions like Shimla, Kullu and Manali, had just 1.1 crore Indian tourists in 2009. Kashmir had 92.35 lakh, Kerala 77.89 lakh and Goa 21.27 lakh. Goa bucked the trend by not seeing a steady rise in domestic tourists -- 22.09 lakh (2007) and 20.2 lakh (2008).
Jayesh Ranjan, tourism secretary of Andhra Pradesh, said, "The maximum number of visitors come to bow in front of Lord Balaji in Tirupati, and they are followed by those who come for a holiday and mostly head to Visakhapatnam, one of the few cities that has the sea and hills in close proximity. The third most-visited city is Hyderabad, which mostly sees corporate tourists because of the presence of so many Fortune 500 companies."
All this catapulted Andhra to the first rung 14 years ago, said Ranjan. And the state has stayed there ever since. In 2009 alone, Andhra raked in Rs 400 crore from tourism.
Religious tourism or work-related visits have pulled domestic tourists to places like Andhra and Tamil Nadu, or for that matter, even Rajasthan or Maharashtra as tourism packages now offer a range of experiences -- from traditional health spas to local cuisine -- an essence of India, so to speak.
A C Mohandoss, director of the Tamil Nadu tourism department, said that while his tourism corporation had several attractions lined up for visitors, most travellers from the north, particularly from Gujarat, came to visit Rameshwaram. "We now have direct trains from north India to several important destinations. Moreover, we are also the first in medical tourism. An equal number of domestic (mostly from the north-east) and international visitors come to our mission hospitals," he said.
With TN realizing the economic potential of tourism, it is now planning to start winter festivals to boost numbers. "For instance, this December, we are showcasing the dances of India in Mahabalipuram," said Mohandoss.
In Maharashtra, too, most tourists head to Shirdi, followed by Pandharpur, which sees a lot of visitors from south India, said Kiran Kurundkar, managing director of the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation. "Then we also see lakhs of visitors heading for the Ajanta and Ellora caves. A recent phenomenon is that a lot of tourists land up in Goa and travel north to spend time on our beaches in Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri," he added.
Rajasthan, a dyed-in-the-wool tourist destination, has witnessed a slight drop in domestic as well as international footfalls. The number of foreign visitors fell from 14.78 lakh (2008) to 10.73 lakh (2009). "But the fall was in line with the overall trend that the country witnessed in case of international tourists.
We realize the potential of domestic tourism, and now we are portraying Rajasthan as a hub for holding marriages that have a touch of royalty. Religious and desert tourism, too, are popular on the domestic visitors' itinerary," said a senior officer in the state's tourism office.