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Drivable destinations a hit among travellers

As the impact of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic seems to have weakened in Maharashtra and the country at large, travellers seem to be heading to driveable places either for the weekend, workation or staycations
By Neha LM Tripathi, Mumbai
UPDATED ON JUN 19, 2021 05:55 PM IST

As the impact of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic seems to have weakened in Maharashtra and the country at large, travellers seem to be heading to driveable places either for the weekend, workation or staycations. With decrease in the number of cases in a few states like Maharashtra, governments have started to ease restrictions, resulting in people feeling positive towards stepping out of their homes.

To add to the decrease in Covid-19 cases in the current month, the arrival of monsoons has added to the number of Mumbaiites travelling again.

Destinations that are easy to drive to or a quick flight away are trending with families, solo travellers, small personal groups, couples and millennials. Micro trips are seen to be a rising travel trend, especially with Gen Z and millennials who see it as the best medium to escape their hectic work-from-home schedules.

The Indian Hotels Company Limited (IHCL), of which Taj Hotels is a subsidiary, said they are seeing green shoots of travel begin to resume. “There has been an increase in demand for vacations at destinations located within driving distances from key cities and staycations within the cities. In and around Maharashtra, IHCL hotels and resorts in destinations such as Nashik have witnessed a substantial increase in occupancies, as have those in Rajasthan, Rishikesh, Theog and Corbett,” IHCL spokesperson said.

She added, “IHCL’s ama Stays & Trails bungalows in Madh Island, Lonavala and Khadakvasla and also South Goa, which are at drivable distance from Mumbai and Maharashtra, have seen consecutive bookings. City hotels in Mumbai as well as those in Delhi have seen many takers for staycations especially over weekends.”

According to Booking.Com, travellers are looking at alternative accommodation such as resorts and villas, getaways with more privacy and seclusion from the crowd.

Ritu Mehrotra, regional manager - South Asia at Booking.com, said, “With the vaccine rollout well underway coupled with lockdown restrictions slowly being lifted across the country, we are noticing pent-up travel demand resurfacing, particularly for domestic destinations. Travellers are looking at shorter booking windows and closer-to-home drivable destinations to reconnect with others and themselves. Based on our recent data, some of the most searched destinations for the month of June in and around Mumbai include Lonavala, Pune, Ahmedabad, Nashik and Vadodara.”

Five-star properties and other luxury suites enjoy maximum confidence due to pre-existing traveller trust in these brands as well as the transparency with which they display their sanitisation practices, assuring high standards of hygiene and safety.

According to Vikas Chandak, SVP and head – strategic businesses, financial products, partnerships and alliances in InterMiles, as the second wave of Covid-19 peaked in Mumbai, May saw a lull in bookings. However, post unlocking, there has been a 151% increase in flight bookings for June, as compared to May.

“We have also seen a tremendous 247% month-on-month increase for domestic hotel bookings via our platform, InterBook,” he said.

“This is notably evident as over 90% bookings from April 2021 to June 2021 are for five-star properties in Mumbai, Pune, Lonavala and Nashik. Five-star properties like Trident (Nariman Point), JW Marriott (Juhu), Oxford Golf Resort (Pune) as well as 3+ star properties like The Source at Sula (Nashik) and Hotel Ritz (Pune) witnessed over 600% surge in bookings on InterBook in June 2021,” he added.

However, InterMiles clarified that close to 60% accommodation reservations continue to remain instantaneous, with majority of travellers opting for same-day bookings or short lead time bookings.

Within a week since restrictions began to ease, MakeMyTrip said that they have seen a jump of nearly 200% in hotel bookings for June. The portal said they are expecting week-on-week recovery to pick pace further as cases continue to drop further.

“Booking patterns on MakeMyTrip indicate that confidence is building back in travel with cancellations being limited to only 10% of overall bookings being made on the platform for June. We are also seeing people book weekend getaways and staycations with many booking hotels for a minimum of two to three nights. Pricing for breakfast only packages continues to remain more or less the same as rates in January and February this year,” said Vipul Prakash, chief operating officer, MakeMyTrip.

It is also observed that villas are now being perceived as a premium experience, given the privacy and exclusivity on offer. Villa stays have been a popular trend worldwide and is now a fast emerging trend in India.

“Staying indoors for many months has created a strong pent up urge for travel, and people are eager to connect and travel once again. With restrictions beginning to ease in Maharashtra, we are seeing a rise in search for stays in destinations that are a short drive away such as Karjat, Lonavala, Mahabaleshwar, Alibag. Unique accommodation formats, such as villas and farmhouses that have an assortment of outdoor amenities or are laden with luxury features, remain highly sought after,” said Simran Kodesia, communications head, Airbnb, India and South East Asia.

Travellers are opting for non-standard, eclectic accommodation such as colonial bungalows, plantation villas, heritage properties and palaces for non-standard/unique experiences like additional dining experiences, unique sightseeing, private transport and travel insurance.

“Properties in Alibag, Lonavala, Goa, Mahabaleshwar, and Nashik are receiving enquiries and bookings. There has been an increase of over 300% for enquiries, which have been from key metros and tier-2 and tier-3 markets,” said Daniel D’souza, president and country head, Leisure, SOTC Travel. In order to attract travellers, SOTC has come up with ‘Holiday First and Pay Later’ offer for select states.

To better understand consumer behaviours and travel needs, SOTC surveyed over 4,000 customers in June 2021 and found that 18% travellers are ready to travel immediately post unlock; 21% in next three months; 30% within six months; 31% in 2022. The survey also highlighted that travellers prefer flexible travel policies and health and safety are top priorities. It further found that around 81% respondents are seeking refundable/zero cancellation products.

“We are seeing a surge of over 400% for villa accommodation in June vs May 2020, primarily for Maharashtra,” said Rajeev Kale, president and country head – holidays, MICE, visa, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd.

“Our data in June highlights significant and growing demand for our Maharashtra villa staycations and workations from large/extended families and groups of young working professionals and friends, with source markets extending across Mumbai, Pune and tier-2 cities like Nagpur, Indore, Surat/Baroda and primarily for Alibag, Lonavala and Panchgani properties. With prices ranging from 25,000 to 30,000 per night for three- or four-bedroom villas, properties with swimming pool and garden/open areas are in high demand. A majority of the queries start with requirements for a weekend, but stays are being extended with growing interest for 10-15 days and more,” Kale added.

However, there are some inhibitions due to inter-state travel restrictions, especially in states like Maharashtra where all passengers travelling by air are required to produce a negative RT-PCR report.

Zubin Saxena, managing director and vice president operations, Radisson Hotel Group, South Asia, said, “Weekend occupancies in leisure destinations like Karjat and Alibag are beginning to show recovery compared to last month. We are also seeing enquiries for weddings and corporate bookings in destinations like Alibag and Ahmedabad. However, owing to fluid situations in government norms, guests are exercising caution in confirming these bookings. These are still early trends and a more definitive picture will emerge over the next few weeks. We remain hopeful that business will pick up as more states ease restrictions and pent up demand strengthens.”

The Machan, an eco resort near Lonavala, has been a go-to place for weekend getaways and it is completely packed for the month.

“At The Machan, we are socially distant by design, with only 29 Machans on a 25-acre property. Our goal has always been to provide our guests a getaway from city life that is steeped in nature affording them a chance to - Disconnect to Connect. With a keen focus on the health and safety of our staff and our guests we have found that travellers from Mumbai, Pune and beyond have honoured us by making us one of the most sought after travel destinations in India. On account of being cooped up in our homes during these rolling lockdowns, we find that the need to escape our city confines is greater than it has ever been. This is clearly reflected in our bookings funnels as the Month of June was completely full before we even entered the month,” said Sanat Hooja, partner, Machan Resorts.

Raj Rabadia, a Vile Parle resident who had booked a villa in Lonavala, said, “The pandemic has forced us to be glued to our homes since long. As soon as I learn that the state is seeing lesser Covid cases now, I decided to spend a weekend with my friends and booked a villa to have some time out from our work-from-home lives.”

Indraneel Sadadekar, an Andheri resident who decided to visit Amby Valley during weekdays, said, “I decided to stay in a villa for two weekdays with my family to spend some quality time and celebrate an occasion. We did not consider any other property than a villa for safety reasons. Travelling to a place near Mumbai and getting to breathe in some fresh air was much needed.”

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