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From homestays to private villas to jungle resorts, bookings and inquiries for leisure travel during the festive season this year is seeing a surge in line with the easing of curbs on inter-state travel and lifting of mandatory testing rules for covid-19.

Travel operators said demand this year has outstripped that of last year as people cooped indoors for months are finally starting to venture out for holidays.

Yatra.com, for instance, said booking inquiries on the online travel platform have jumped about 40%.

“During this festive season, we have seen a spike in bookings being made to destinations such as Himachal, Uttarakhand, Varanasi, Ranchi, Lucknow and Kolkata as travellers plan trips to their hometowns or nearby destinations for leisure around the weekends of festivals such as Dussehra and Diwali," said a Yatra.com spokesperson.

Families are opting for at least four nights and preferring homestays, cottages and luxury hotels. Also, up to 74% of those travelling as individuals are opting for 4- and 5-star hotels at a drivable distance, according to data from Yatra.com.

Mahindra Holidays and Resorts India said more members are holidaying at its properties in October this year than last year. This despite just 52 of 69 Mahindra resorts being currently operational.

“There’s a high occupancy in Maharashtra, Goa, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Himachal and Uttarakhand. Over the weekend, we are almost sold out. Most resorts are outside the city with big rooms and common areas," said Vivek Khanna, chief operating officer, Mahindra Holidays and Resorts.

Thomas Cook India said demand from small groups of holidaymakers, including families who were forced to keep their travel plans in abeyance so far this year, is rising.

“We also see demand from the honeymoon segment, which had postponed their plans due to the lockdown. There is a growing demand for bookings that are at short notice—between 5-10 days among those planning a domestic holiday," said Rajeev Kale, president and country head–holidays, MICE and visa at Thomas Cook (India) Ltd. MICE is meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions.

Fun outdoor activities such as nature camps, national parks and hiking trails are popular. SOTC Travel said it is seeing strong demand for Ranthambore in October and November in its wilderness packages. Other wildlife reserves include Kanha, Gir and Jim Corbett National Park.

“With consumers opting for non-standard or eclectic accommodation such as colonial bungalows, plantation villas and heritage assets, we have introduced India’s Hidden Gems package starting at 11,500," said Daniel D’Souza, president and country head, leisure, SOTC Travel.

A set of travellers are also looking at private vacation homes with luxury villa chain SaffronStays receiving twice the number of bookings against last year’s festive season.

“Unlike hotels where one can’t use the pool, travellers can freely do so at a rented villa. We’ve seen a rise in demand for smaller homes—anywhere between one to three bedrooms as well in drive-to distances from Mumbai," said Devendra Parulekar, founder of SaffronStays.

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