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Indian holiday now experiential

Experiential tourism draws a visitor into cultures, communities and outdoor activities giving them a first hand feel of things.

india Updated: Nov 01, 2008 20:40 IST

Fifty-two-year-old Virender Singh, a Gujarat-based hotelier, can't stop raving about his holiday. He availed himself of the "Sex and the City" tour of New York city that took him to all the places that feature in the popular American teleserial.

"I am very fond of 'Sex and the City' and when I found a package named after the serial online, I booked it."

For three-and-a-half hours, he lived the lives of the four women protagonists, touching upon all the stops that the girls haunt. "It was an experience of a lifetime," Singh gushed to IANS during a visit here for Diwali.

The buzzword in the Indian holiday circuit is experience. Holidays, be it luxury, adventure or business, are now more about savouring the offbeat and unsual to carry lasting memories back home.

The genre is known as experiential tourism, which according to officials at tourism major Cox & Kings, draws a visitor into cultures, communities and outdoor activities by way of allowing them a first hand feel of things at holiday destinations.

These vacations fuse two unique aspects - a do-it-yourself itinerary and a series of memorable experiences that make the holidays more personal and participatory.

In September, Cox and Kings introduced self-drive holidays in Australia and Ireland which guaranteed tourists the freedom to space out schedules and try out new activities.

The six-day-five-night Australian safari, "Best of Melbourne", worked its itinerary around a drive on the country's most famous sea-facing motorable stretch, The Great Ocean Road that touched upon hotspots along the southern ocean.

The package offered multi-options like high-adventure activities such as surfing at Bells Beach, the venue of the World Surfing Championships, negotiating the limestone stacks at Twelve Apostles and basking in the lores of the 50 ship wrecks and natural history of Loch Ard George and Port Campbell National Park in Australia.

The decade of the 1990s, says a study by William L. Smith of the Emporio University in Kansas, witnessed the evolution of more experience-based travel in the West that began percolating down to India in the middle of this decade.

"Travel is not about logistics or getting from A to B - it is about experiences you gave and the memories you make.

"Whether it's a view of the sunset from a catamaran, your first glimpse of a wild lion, the first tasting at the vineyard or the exhilaration of white water rafting, these are memories that make up your holiday experiences," said Aseem Sadana, co-founder and the chief operating officer of Isango, one of the world's largest online aggregators of experiential travel.

"There is a huge growth in the demand for more personalised and unique holidays and in the sale of do-it-yourself holidays travel logistics online," Sadana said.

The duration of these experiences or holidays can range from a few hours to many days - and each experience is tagged against multiple categories.

Isango offers at least 50 different types of activities from which one can choose like air activities, cultural experiences, theme park visits, romantic retreats, tours for seniors and night experiences.

For instance, a couple honeymooning in Paris can choose from more than 150 different local "experiences" available at Isango like cooking lunch with a countess, seeing Paris by night, a cruise down the Seine river or the Eiffel Tower and the Moulin Rouge show.

One of the hottest experiences on the Isango portfolio is a three-and-a-half-hour "Sex and the City Tour" in New York priced at US $41.99 per person.

Experiential holidays are price-wise too.

"We have realised that each luxury traveller is unique and wants a particular aspect from the luxury holiday. Some look for relaxation and others for entertainment, history, romance, shopping and even golf. The experiences vary," said Ashutosh Mehere, vice-president, Luxury Escapades, Cox & Kings India Limited.

To heighten the experience of romance, Cox & Kings has introduced special packages like Plus Romance with the tagline that "romance is what make us human, but add a touch of fantasy to it, and you have a whole new story".

Said Pradeep Kalra, senior vice-president, sales and marketing, Sarovar Group of Hotels: "The retreats of yoga guru Baba Ramdev, Shri Shri Ravi Shankar, camps and offbeat adventure resorts which enable their guests to participate in undiscovered experiences can be clubbed under the experiential category.

"Even pilgrimages to temple towns like Badrinath or Shirdi throw up unique experiences."

First Published: Nov 01, 2008 20:30 IST