For most Delhiites, summer vacations are like epic journeys. Most of their queries, say experts — once they get the shopping Q & A out of the way — are about health and safety. What if the ship turns in the choppy seas? Will somebody be at hand to ensure they get on the boat first? If they are flying, who will receive them at the airport? Will it be a man with a red handkerchief in his breast pocket and a poodle on a leash? Well, not quite, but, say travel agents, the Delhi market does test their abilities to "problem-solve" and "give assurances".
The flip side — "Once they're confident, they're happy to pay a lakh and a half online and say — 'Can I leave tonight?'" says Anand Kandadai, senior vice-president, sales and distribution, makemytrip.com.
May catches the early birds. In June, the bookings peak as most Delhi schools close by May 15 for vacations. So far, the emerging markets, say travel agents, are Bhutan, Dubai, Turkey, Scotland, Macau, Mauritius and Indonesia. Thailand, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Phillipines, Uttaranchal, Kerala, Kashmir and, of course, Goa, remain the top 10 favourites.
The Goa-Delhi relationship is a bit of a puzzle though. If there are many who avoid a Goan summer in May, the pressure from Delhi's Goa-fanatics pushing the bookings up is such that it gets top billing with Thailand — the top grosser in the global market for first-time and even second-timers abroad from Delhi. "Bookings for Goa and Thailand are 50-50 already," says Ashish Chadha of Spring Travels.
Delhi's appetite for travel across all budgets is huge. Delhiites are sailing, driving, train-travelling and flying everywhere, so who is to say in these early summer days what other surprises the market will spring? This year, for example, Kashmir despite the unpredictability of its political situation, is expected to bounce back, say travel agents. Manoj Gursahani, MD, vamoose.in, counts Srinagar at the top of his weekend getaways. Kashmir also figures in the list of yatra.com's top earners. Prateek Mazumder, head of marketing, yatra.com breaks up the daily traffic: "There are more than 100 people travelling daily with us to Himachal, 40-50 to Ladakh, 20 to Kashmir, and 1,500 so far for a nine-day four-country Europe tour."
Expats who want short leisure-trips and a quick return back are opting for places at a drive from Delhi such as the golf resort Tarudhan (an hour's drive away), the spa, Surya Vilas (5 hrs) Tree Top resort (45 min from Gurgaon) and the Garden Valley Resort in Bhowali run by a Cordon Bleu chef (6 hrs), says Amrita Sen, a travel consultant who caters exclusively to the expat clientele.
Who else is moving out of Delhi this summer? As with all summers, it is people with families. Sixty per cent of Delhi's regular summer travellers take their family along, travel agents say. Savita Kohli, mother of a three-year-old, has many travel plans for the year; for summer it will "probably be Mumbai for the Water Kingdom and also Singapore at some point."
Guldeep Singh of Weldon Travels points to a new fascination with Dubai in summer, for its shopping certainly, but also for its Marine Park. London's Lake District, the Niagara Falls, Spain's cruises, Maldives and Mauritius are other draws for the same reasons. Singh explains this fascination in half-jest: "In Delhi, people don't have water in their taps, so they want to go to a place where they see water all around…"
Travel agents, however, have a few tips for prospective travellers. a) Tell them your budget first so that they can make a suitable itinerary. Most agents say it's the other way around. b) Do try hotels other than the one your brother-in-law has stayed in. c) Avoid roping in your travel agent for migrating to Canada in the garb of tourism as it spoils their "relations with the Canadian immigration authorities." d) And finally, if you have gone for a visit to the Louvre in Paris, do get off the bus.