Culture may still be the city’s chief calling card, but that is perhaps not the only thing that has put Chennai on the New York Times’ list of places to visit in 2014.
Though most of the city’s description hinges around names that are part of pop culture – like Kalakshetra, the Kapaleeshwarar Temple and Music Academy – it is the ‘fresh buzz’ mentioned at the end that may have pushed Chennai’s case ahead of Mumbai and Delhi.
Trendy nightclubs, freshly modelled luxury hotels that can keep the clubs open and serve cocktails 24x7, malls, multiplexes, some of the best prices on rooms in the Indian subcontinent, gourmet restaurants and a reputation for being a relatively safe city (no shadows of gangrape hanging around), have all contributed to namma Chennai getting itself placed at the 26th spot on the global tourism list. Add to it the amount of culture that Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry can churn out and you’ve got a potent combination of a cultural yet subliminally cool city.
The springing up of luxury hotels in the past 5 years has helped the cause no end. Beginning with the Hyatt Regency Chennai, the Park Hyatt Chennai, the Westin Chennai Velachery, the Hilton Chennai, the Taj Gateway OMR and the ITC Grand Chola have all pinned heavy hopes on the city’s burgeoning tourism market, just as much as catering to banquets and corporate clients.
“Almost all the hotels give casual tourists the option of chilling out, grabbing a few drinks and having their usual clubbing experience right beside a native Indian restaurant where they can experience music, culture and Indian food. Lots of guests give up the idea of eating out as they spend their time dining and partying inside the hotel itself,” said the former restaurant manager at a five-star hotel here in Chennai.
True enough. ITC Sheraton Park and Towers has their signature South Indian restaurant Dakshin right next to their uber-popular nightclub Dublin. Le Royal Meridien has their seafood restaurant Kayal in close proximity to their resto-lounge. The Hyatt Regency has their Indian fusion restaurant Spice Route across the lobby from resto-bar 365 AD.
Even the standalone pubs have helped. Vacations and visits are supposed to be fun and there’s only so much that classical dance and monuments can do towards that end. “The Flying Elephant, Illusions, Zara and 10 Downing Street are the first things that any taxi driver or hotel tour desk will suggest to all my friends when they say they want to get a drink or party. Unlike Bangalore and Hyderabad, the curfew isn’t till midnight,” reasoned Annabeth, a British national who currently works and resides in Chennai, “It’s clean, cheap and we get treated very well,” she added.
All through 2012, a whopping 35.62 lakh foreigners visited Tamil Nadu – a number which should have grown by over 20% in 2013 according to sources in the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation.
“Almost all the foreign tourists come through Chennai. Even if they’re doing Deep South tours, almost all of them like to have a taste of urban life and so they like to start and begin their Indian experiences here in Chennai,” said Sam Victor, who works with a travel agency in Alwarpet.
With a lot of great reviews from visiting medical tourists, Chennai’s multispeciality hospitals have also taken away reservations among tourists about medical emergencies – from allergies to an angioplasty. “The image of dirty hospitals with steel pans and old sheets is all gone. The internet has done wonders really,” said a spokesperson for Global Health City.
Chennai has always been a humid city, but as far as tourism is concerned, this is as cool as it can get. Literally and figuratively.