Features

Overview of Chennai: Gainful Investments

29 Mar 2017 by Neha Gupta Kapoor
Chennai

Counted amongst one of the six metropolises of India, on the southeast coast is Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu. While each of these tier-I cities have a unique touristic charm to them — Bengaluru’s vibrant bar scene, Delhi’s food and art, Hyderabad’s Nizami heritage, Kolkata’s colonial structures, Mumbai’s glamour — the main category of tourism that Chennai welcomes is medical. 

PERSONALITY

Chennai International Airport receives a sizeable chunk of leisure tourists too, but mostly those whose onward travel plans include the picturesque and heritage towns of Puducherry (150km) and Mahabalipuram (55km). In 2015-16 the airport handled 15.3 million passengers. Numbers also include tourists in transit to Coimbatore (70 minutes by flight) that connects to only three international destinations. From Coimbatore people continue to Ooty and other hill stations. Thus, Chennai naturally becomes the airport hub for Tamil Nadu, and also the gateway to South India, being nearest to most holiday towns in the region. 

Leisure tourism to Chennai is rather low in comparison to the other five above mentioned capital cities, because it has been perceived to be orthodox in many ways. Its Marina Beach is good to visit for street food, but women wearing shorts, leave alone swimwear (even for men) would be a culture shock for locals. Besides, this is one of the few “sightseeing” spots; others include ancient temples and churches. Debates have been aired on national television whether Chennai is one of the more conservative Indian cities or not. Watering holes are permitted only in hotels that have 20 or more rooms to let. If you visit any one of these, you’ll find that the number of men surpass the number of women by a wide margin. Self-empowered moral police groups have been a nuisance in Chennai. Locals prefer speaking Tamil, and Indians visiting from other states too are often lost in translation as the majority here haven’t learnt the country’s most widely spoken language — Hindi. 

Having said that, Tamil Nadu has one of the highest literacy rates in India at 90.33 per cent, thanks to its capital. The city is also why the state’s economic growth curve has been on an upward rise from a GSDP (Gross State Domestic Product) of US$48.9 billion in 2004-05 to US$161.1 billion in 2014-15 — published by Directorate Economics and Statistics of Tamil Nadu. 

BREAD AND BUTTER

One of the newest industries to propel Chennai’s success is medical tourism that saw a fillip only in the last ten years. The sector can be tracked down to some of India’s top medical schools located in and around here, such as Madras Medical College (Chennai was formerly known as Madras); and Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, and Christian Medical College that are two hours from the city centre. 

Students graduating from these institutes have an array of training opportunities at the many hospitals in the state capital. To name a few, Apollo Hospitals, Sankara Nethralaya Eye Hospital, and MIOT International Hospital have partnered with hospitals overseas for conclusive results through research, as well as for staff training, innovation in treatments, medical programmes and so on. 

Travel operators have curated packages that slot one day, out of the itinerary of touring Chennai and the neighbouring towns, for non-intrusive medical examinations like MRI and CAT scans. In return, hospitals too have concierge desks that are handy with information on the city for patients and their companions. 

From all the medical procedures bringing in crowds, dental treatments rank high amongst tourists. Chennai has seen an influx of patients from the USA and the UK who club family holidays to the city with dental treatments. About 40 per cent of Shradha Dental Centre’s clientele, for example, is from outside the state. Dr Shradha says, this is because the treatments are about 15 times cheaper than in the west. Apollo Hospitals has designed the “Holi-dent” programme such that patients may continue their treatments at any Apollo Hospitals in India without interrupting their holiday itinerary. It defines this as a “dental vacation”. 

Raju Venkatraman, the CEO of Medall Healthcare, a chain of diagnostic centres says, “We can’t predicate the revenue contributed by medical tourism towards Chennai’s GDP, but what I can say for sure is that the future is bright [for this industry].” 

Ironically, Chennai’s level of hygiene outside hospitals is questionable, shocking first-time visitors. Traffic is a nightmare with people crossing streets at random, cars daring to defy stop lights, and abandoned cattle doing the jaywalk. Yet, it remains alluring to foreigners for its myriad benefits, health and otherwise. The other groups that see an opportunity in investing in the city are manufacturers, especially of automobiles and auto components.  

Chennai alone accounts for about 50 per cent of the country’s automobile exports and over 22 per cent of auto component production, making Tamil Nadu a key manufacturing and export hub for India. This success can be attributed to the state’s investment-friendly environment that includes friendly tax laws for production of automobiles and auto components, encouraging industrial incentives, conducive infrastructure, proximity to sea ports, and the 2014 Tamil Nadu Automobile and Auto Components Policy that strives to put Chennai (ergo India) in the top five worldwide rank for automobile and auto components exports. As per figures of Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, with 5,32,053 cars exported in financial year 2016, India is the 20th largest exporter of cars in the world. 

It all began when Ashok Leyland set up the first assembling plant here in 1948. Since then, Chennai has received foreign direct investment from global auto making giants such as Ford, Daimler, Yamaha, Nissan, Hyundai and BMW to name a few. In fact, Nissan’s manufacturing unit in Chennai is now its Indian export hub, shipping about 1,00,000 cars each year. Hyundai India though, partner of Chennai Port Trust, remains the largest exporter of automobiles in the country. And these are only examples of the companies that are populating international markets with India-made models. 

Reacting to the future of Chennai’s fastest growing business, P Thangamani, Tamil Nadu’s former Minister of Industries had said in 2015, ”Chennai will have an installed capacity to produce 13.8 lakh cars and 3.61 lakh commercial vehicles each year. That is about three cars [produced] every minute, one commercial vehicle [produced] every 90 seconds.” 

Currently, a 450 crore research unit — Global Automotive Research Centre (GARC) Chennai — is underway. When completed, it will be a huge support for the industry. Its website (garc.co.in) reads: “GARC is a unit under National Automotive Testing and R&D Infrastructure Project (NATRiP) housing the facilities for comprehensive testing services. GARC provides certification testing and R&D support to the automotive vehicle and component manufacturers in India. The GARC, which is under construction is spread over 304 acres with combined office space and test labs at the SIPCOT Industrial Growth Centre near (southwest) Chennai at Oragadam.” Its launch date is yet to be announced. 

Marina Beach

Other Traits 

The city is divided into five zones — North, South, East, West, and Central. Presently, businesses see value in launching in the southwest part of the city. This is where the population of technology and financial firms are in the majority as compared to the rest of Chennai. India’s biggest exporter of software services, TCS has its largest development base with over 40,000 employees here. Mahindra and Wipro are others whose first choice for expanding outside their base cities is Chennai. Other players who have offices here are Accenture, Cognizant, Verizon, HCL, Amazon, eBay, Paypal, Polaris, Patni, and Capgemini to name a few. 

The UN estimates that by 2025, the city will expand from housing 7.5 million in 2010 to more than 10 million. This indicates that Chennai is a promising employment generator. It already falls third after Mumbai and Delhi as an employment hub. 

The entertainment industry too draws in job seekers by the dozen. Chennai has India’s second largest entertainment industry (after Mumbai’s Bollywood). It is largely enjoyed by Tamil-speaking movie buffs as the language is not vastly spoken in others parts of India. Having said that, there is a huge market for Kollywood overseas. Movies such as Chandramukhi, Lingaa and Kabali have been sold for four-, 21- and 30-crore respectively, internationally. Of the 35 key countries that have a sizeable Tamil-speaking population, Kollywood finds a huge fan following in Malaysia, USA, Singapore, Europe and the UK, Middle East, Sri Lanka, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. 

Culture  

Chennai may seem dull to an outsider, but it has a sophisticated vibrant side to it too. For starters, the city is known for its classical music and dance festivals. Madras Music Season in December, lasts for about six weeks every year. Fans fly down from the world over to watch some of the most proficient in the field perform here. 

Spread over 100 acres on Chennai’s beachfront, is Kalakshetra known to be a prestigious school for Bharat Natyam, the most widely practiced dance form in the country. It is “a vital centre for the study and performance of fine arts, envisioned and designed with the style and proportion of Indian aesthetics. It was recognised by the Government of India as an Institute of National Importance by an act of Indian Parliament in the year 1993 and is now an autonomous body under the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.”  

Perhaps, instead of questioning if Chennai is orthodox, it would be nicer to label it as traditional. Apart from earning the country the reputation of being a medical hub, and making it attractive to automobile giants, Chennai has neatly preserved century-old art forms for generations to come. 

Besides, with the number of job openings and the number of global giants setting up office here,it won’t be long before Chennai adopts an international flavour.

ONWARD TRAVEL 

If snakes, amphibians and lizards are of interest to you, you can stop at The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (madrascrocodilebank.org; entry fee ₹40; open Tuesday-Sunday 8:30am-5:30pm; night safari Tuesday-Saturday 7pm-8:30pm, fee ₹200), en route from Chennai International Airport to Mahabalipuram. The conservatory is where one can interact and be educated on lizards, snakes, crocodiles and turtles. Stay two nights in Mahabalipuram before heading to Puducherry. The distance between Mahabalipuram and Puducherry is merely 100km or a 120-minute drive. 

Puducherry (a three-hour drive from Chennai International Airport)

Puducherry is better recognised for its Aurobindo Ashram, and then for its dual-personality. Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) was a philosopher and spiritual leader whose teachings continue to gather an international fan following even after his death. There is more history to this picturesque town found in backstories of existing historic buildings and well-preserved museums. 

Puducherry’s personality is visibly split between the French and Tamil quarters. The former is quiet, dressed in quaint boutique hotels and cafes, street names in french, and washed in pastel colours. The Tamil quarter is more bustling with narrow or no footpaths, crowded temples at almost every street corner, air redolent with delightful street foods, and is a picture of vibrancy. 

This town was once a French colonial settlement until 1954. After it gained independence, it was bestowed the status of one of India’s seven union territories. Falling directly under the rule of India’s Central Government, it has earned certain benefits that include low taxes. Tourists too gain from this in the form of cheap alcohol in comparison to those priced in the other Indian states. 

Mahabalipuram (a 90-minute drive from Chennai International Airport) 

Relics of the Pallav Dynasty from the 7th century are well preserved in the heart of Mahabalipuram. It really is a historian’s delight. Influences from the Hindu mythological tale of Mahabharata on the former denizens are prominent in the stone etchings, statuettes, and gigantic structures. Most, if not all have beautifully and miraculously survived the 2014 tsunami. 

These remains are best enjoyed when visited early morning or just before sunset for temperatures in this coastal town can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius. However, once inside any of the many temples and other such sanctuaries carved out of enormous rocks centuries ago, the body is instantly cooled by naturally controlled temperatures within. 

Mahabalipuram has only in the recent years become a popular getaway option for many looking for solace from city-life. This is prominent from the hotel chains that have launched in and around here such as Radisson Blu, InterContinental, and the soon to open, Marriott.

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