Covid-19 impact: Wanderlust Indians are rediscovering their country, giving pandemic-ravaged tourism industry a boost

Domestic travel, which is already showing signs of recovery by increasing 40% since the beginning of the year, will continue to drive occupancies across hotels and resorts in 2021

Neeta LalUpdated: Saturday, July 24, 2021, 10:23 PM IST
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With Covid-19 making international travel challenging, peripatetic Indians are rediscovering the joys of exploring their own backyards. Drivecations, staycations, road trips and local slow/immersive travel experiences at drivable properties have surged among those eager to escape home confinement after a long spell of pandemic-induced lockdowns.

According to a pan-India Airbnb survey, domestic travel, which is already showing signs of recovery by increasing 40% since the beginning of the year, will continue to drive occupancies across hotels and resorts in 2021, thanks to ‘revenge travel’ during weekends and holidays.

Connecting with nature, exploring fun activities and bonding with family minus the stress of rushing around overseas to tick many boxes will be the new form of rejuvenation, say aviation experts. Leveraging this interest among travellers, hotels and resorts have come out with an array of recreational offerings.

The Neemrana ‘non-hotel’ Hotels, which has a bouquet of 17 hotels across the country, for instance, is offering visitors a chance to experience its historical getaways through special staycation offers. These include a contact-less check-in, local cultural experiences, customised culinary offerings and private dining on terraces and gardens.

“There is a clear upward trend for nearby getaways, staycations and workcations with a surge in demand to travel domestically,” says Sonavi Kaicker, CEO, Neemrana Hotels. “Our vision as ‘non-hotels’ is rooted in experiential tourism across our restored heritage properties that can be accessed by road from major cities. From a 15th century Rajasthani fort-palace to an 18th century Maratha fort or a 19th century Sikh property, we offer unique recreational venues unlike traditional hotels.”

At The Writer’s Bungalow and Cliff House in Ramgarh, Uttarakhand, guests can book a private bungalow with a breath-taking view of the Himalayan valley. The colonial British properties, fitted with verandahs, bay windows and gardens overlook the fruit basket of the Kumaon peppered with apricots, plums, peaches, pears and apple trees.

The Glasshouse on the Ganges, another Himalayan getaway in Uttarakhand, has clouds floating in and out of guests’ rooms. One can also trek down 150 bamboo and pine steps to the resort’s private white sand beach by the Ganges. Some of Neemrana’s other properties focus on local communities and cultural heritage. The Neemrana Fort-Palace, Hill Fort-Kesroli and Tijara Fort-Palace organise weekly cultural and Rajasthani folk performances to support local artistes whose livelihoods have been ravaged by Covid-19.

Parikshit Sirohi, a Delhi-based startup owner who vacationed with his wife and two kids at the Glasshouse on The Ganges last month says it was a wonderful bonding exercise. “We were looking to reconnect in a different setting with each other having been cooped up inside our flat for months. The scenic location, fresh local cuisine and treks in the Himalayas recharged our batteries like we could never imagine!”

The new luxury

Due to the pandemic, hygiene and sanitation have emerged as the twin new luxuries. And the travel/hospitality industry has made significant efforts to boost travellers’ confidence by making services as contactless as possible.

According to Sumit Gogia, general manager, Heritage Village Resort and Spa Manesar, Haryana, travellers’ confidence has been boosted in taking mini family breaks as hotels ensure appropriate sanitation measures.

“With a sizeable population of urban residents vaccinated, people are looking forward to travel by road and stay in a safe environment. Capacious resorts with manicured gardens, villas and pools score over constricted hotel spaces as guests can have more control over their sanitation here,” says Gogia.

Spread over 12 acres with 154 rooms, Heritage Village Resort & Spa facilitates appropriate social distancing to the guests. All public areas are treated with an anti-viral coating, sanitised rigorously and the entire staff is vaccinated. Guests are also encouraged to opt for al fresco activities such as bicycling around the resort to soak in salubrious landscaped lawns. “With our accent on vocal for local, we also grow our own organic vegetables and fruits that are turned into palate-pleasing fare by our award-winning chefs,” adds Gogia.

Gastronomy

With foodcations or culinary holidays emerging as a strong trend among millennials, a big focus for the hospitality sector are their gastronomic offerings, often rustled up from excellent produce grown inhouse.

At Karma Lakelands, a 300-acre eco-friendly golf resort in Gurgaon, Haryana, guests can tour the inhouse nurseries and farms with a biodiversity expert to learn about local seasonal vegetables and fruits like Mandarin oranges, lemons, mangoes, peaches, plums and more grown inhouse.

“Food and beverage remain the core of our offerings to discerning guests and vacationers so that everybody can enjoy diverse dining experiences. Increasingly, with people travelling overseas, demand for gourmet and international food has gone up dramatically,” says Karma Lakelands’ General Manager Damandeep Singh.

Family staycations

With family staycations emerging as an important travel segment, premier hotels like The Park, Le Meridien and The Leela have introduced attractive packages. ‘The Leela Moments’ by The Leela Hotels has staycation offers inclusive of breakfast, free WiFi, confirmed upgrade, 15% discount on laundry, food and soft beverages, special turndown amenity, early check in and late checkout bespoke services.

Some Leela properties also throw in complimentary light afternoon snacks, traditional English high tea and cocktails at discounts to sweeten the deal. Complimentary interactive activities for kids, sunset poolside digital photoshoot for family, and free welcome amenities for kids are some of hotel’s offerings. “We also organise online yoga sessions for our guests while kids up to 12 years stay for free in one complimentary room,” said a Leela official.

Popular pandemic getaways

Mashobra: Located around 11 kms from Shimla, the well-kept Himalayan secret has emerged as a hotpot among offbeat travellers drawn by the captivating beauty of the quaint town surrounded by rhododendron, oak, pine, and Himalayan deodar forests.

Jaipur: Recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the Rajasthan capital exemplifies the regality of the desert state. Peppered with stunning monuments, heritage sites and a rich culture, it is also a must-visit destination for shopping and food.

Hampi: Known for its chiselled monuments, the UNESCO heritage site is like a time machine transporting you to the 14th and 16th century during the glorious reign of the Vijayanagara Empire. Its prime attractions include splendorous palaces, monuments and temples. 

Munnar: Famous for its tea plantations, exotic flora and fauna, spices, and salubrious weather, the hill station is a dream escape for the pandemic-weary.

Goa: With its golden beaches, churches and pulsating nightlife, the pocket-sized paradise showcases the Portuguese-Indian heritage to great effect. Enjoy local yummies at scenic beach shacks and adrenaline-spiking water sports.

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