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NEW DELHI : As the long and last weekend of 2021 drew to a close, there was a huge surge in holiday demand for end-of-the-year celebrations, with several locations and resorts reporting 100% occupancy, and tariffs rising to levels last seen in 2019.

Lemon Tree Hotels deputy managing director Rattan Keswani said he had been expecting many last-minute cancellations. On the contrary, unlike the previous year, they got a lot of last-minute reservations.

“Most of our resorts did well. We were worried about Rishikesh and Goa since pick-up stalled the week before New Year’s after the Omicron variant started to spread. However, a lot of the traffic came at the last minute. We were full in all our hotels in Goa and Tarudhan Valley in Manesar, Haryana, and we did almost 75-80% occupancy in Rishikesh as well," Keswani said.

Domestic tourism surged in 2021 as the resumption of international tourism was further delayed by the spread of Omicron. Thomas Cook (India) said its domestic business increased over 4x for the New Year weekend and extended weekend with locations in Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Rajasthan, the Northeast and the Andamans driving demand. Despite airfares being at a premium, top properties were fully booked.

Similarly, for online tour operator MakeMyTrip, 25-31 December and the first two days of January registered probably the highest period of travel and hotel bookings in the last 18 months. Abhishek Logani, chief business officer for the hotels business at the firm said, “Bookings during Christmas and the New Year’s eve weekend managed to surpass numbers recorded in the same period in 2020. When compared with pre-pandemic levels, we noticed that bookings to some of the popular tourist destinations, including Agra, Dehradun, Rishikesh, Shillong, and Mcleodganj saw full recovery. Bookings to Kashmir also grew manifold when compared with same period in 2019."

Initially, the company saw some cancellations of flight bookings. But that was quickly replaced by an increase in travel to destinations around bigger cities. The highest growth in bookings, Logani said, came from the premium hotels, high-end villas and homestay segments.

Thomas Cook has seen strong demand in key metros and tier-II markets, including Jaipur, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Madurai, Coimbatore, Kochi, Surat, and Baroda, said Rajeev Kale, president and country head of the holidays, MICE and visa segment for the firm. For its other firm, SOTC, demand for domestic travel during New Year’s outstripped 2020 levels by more than three times.

“With the early onset of snowfall, the increase in demand for India’s winter wonderland has been truly significant. There has been a surge of 3x over its 2020 levels in resort stays in Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Auli, Mussoorie, Shimla, Dalhousie and Dharamshala. The Northeast’s Sikkim emerged strongly on the radar. Plantation villa stays set against verdant tea and coffee estates of Coorg, Coonoor, Munnar to the lesser known Idukki, Lambasingi, and Araku Valley also did well," Kale said.

Winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and hiking were top draws for honeymooners and multigenerational families, too, especially with young professionals keen to use up unspent leave, Kale said.

December 2021 was a promising month for Skyview by Empyrean in Sanget Valley, Patnitop, as the company closed with about 70% occupancy for its rooms across the month. Christmas and New Year’s Eve with the weekend was completely booked as well.

Similarly, The Khyber Himalayan Resort & Spa, Gulmarg, UT J&K saw full occupancy over the weekend that went by. Luxury Escapes India also witnessed that customers who purchased New Years Eve packages much in advance, cancelled and changed their dates while those who’d purchased with a travel time of about 7-10 days did not.

Thomas Cook said drivecations and staycations were back in demand for the new year, given high airfares and with popular destinations such as Shimla, Manali, Mussoorie, Nainital, Gulmarg, Coorg, Ooty, Puducherry and Mahabalipuram being fully booked.

However, Keswani pointed to one notable change in hospitality since the coronavirus outbreak. People now do last-minute bookings owing to the uncertain environment. With a big New Year weekend just having closed, it was difficult to forecast the trend for the whole month, he said.

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