People in Mumbai are looking forward to this Republic Day more than ever. Not because of a surge in patriotism but because it falls on a Friday and thus ushers in a long weekend.
So Mumbaiites have packed their bags and made a mad dash for the nearest weekend getaway. Neighbouring hill stations of Mahabaleshwar, Matheran and Lonavala are at the top of the list of hot spots for the weekend. Alibaug and Goa come next.
"For a weekend trip, people prefer destinations that are close by or that allow economical air travel," Om Prakash, chairman of the western region chapter of the Travel Agents' Association of India (TAAI), said.
Prakash, who is also the Director of Mumbai-based Orbit Tours, added that low cost airlines have now brought a lot of nearby holiday destinations within the reach of the common man.
According to tour operators, planning for such long weekends begins as early as January when the list of holidays for the new year is out. "Usually, January does not see too much tourist activity because people have just finished with Christmas and New Year revelry. But this weekend, the jump is more than 100 per cent over normal weekends," Vishvajeet Patil, Director, Raja Rani Travels, said.
Patil attributes the rise in the popularity of weekend getaways to an increase in the standard of living of people in the city after the information technology and outsourcing boom. "Budgets of people have increased," Patil explained. "People are willing to spend anything between Rs 5,000 and Rs 20,000 for two or three nights."
Ronak Kotecha, media professional, who is going to Matheran: "Yeah, we are anticipating large crowds on the way but even if we have to spend an entire day in the traffic, we won't miss out on the fun: We plan to drink, sing songs and make merry in our car. The picnic for us starts the moment we sit in our car. I don't want to miss out on this holiday, because this is the last winter holiday this season."
Sejal Deshpande, a second-year-student, who is going to Alibaug with her family: "I don't think going to Alibaug will be a problem but there could be a traffic jam when we return on Sunday. But I'm looking forward to a great holiday. We will be staying at our holiday home in Alibaug and I can't wait to hit the beach. Even if the place is crowded and the journey difficult, I'll still have a good time with my family."
It is not just private hotels that are fully booked. Properties of the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation are also raking in the moolah from a huge tourist influx. "All resorts are booked. Destinations like Tarkarli, Ganpatipule and Vengurla have been popular choices," Abhay Yavalkar, joint managing director. MTDC, revealed.
Yavalkar added that the MTDC's online booking facility made it convenient for many tourists, especially youngsters, to make bookings well in advance.
However, Yavalkar himself will have to stay back in the city. "I have work to do," he said. "Besides, even I will not find accommodation anywhere."