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Indians are packing their bags for the hills, beaches and homestays as the festive season draws near, casting off months of hesitation as falling covid cases and rising vaccinations fuel traveller confidence.

While some are looking to visit tourist locales during Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga Puja and Diwali, others plan to visit their home towns, boosting bookings by 50-70% from the same period a year ago, travel firms and hospitality chains said.

Travel firm SOTC India said festive season demand (October-November) is 500%higher than last year. “We expect the festive season’s recovery at about 70% of 2019 levels," said Daniel D’souza, president and country head, SOTC Travel.

Rajeev Kale, president and country head-holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd, said festival season bookings for Durga Puja and Diwali surged 600% in July from June, “with a robust forward pipeline of queries across Indian and international destinations. What is noteworthy is the increase in length of stay, averaging about 10-15 days for international trips and around 5-7 days for domestic," he said.

Online travel agent MakeMyTrip said its data showed a five-times increase in travel bookings made this August as compared to the same time last year. Vipul Prakash, chief operating officer, MakeMyTrip, said there has been a more than sevenfold jump in bookings for family travel with more than two members.

“Near-term leisure travel bookings are up by 20%, with bookings for travel during the festive dates already seeing a jump of 35%," Prakash said. The company is anticipating a significant increase in group or family travel to destinations in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Kashmir, Mahabaleshwar, Ooty, Digha, Pondicherry and Goa in the coming months.

Enquiries at online travel agent Yatra are up 15-20%, with travellers exploring secluded and less commercial options such as homestays, staycations, cottages, tents and heritage properties, apart from conventional places, said Sabina Chopra, co-founder and COO, corporate travel and head of industry relations.

Clearly, hospitality chains are benefiting from this surge in travel across age groups and travel segments, including mid-market, upmarket and luxury properties.

Kerrie Hannaford, vice-president, commercial at Accor India and South Asia, said it has seen a notable increase in the percentage of bookings because of the festive season. Accor currently operates brands such as Raffles, Fairmont, Sofitel, Pullman, Grand Mercure, Novotel, Mercure and ibis in India. “We continue to see a preference for leisure destinations as people want to drive down to cities close by to take a break from work and spend some quality time with family and friends. Destinations such as Udaipur, Jaipur, etc., are doing well. We’ve been receiving many queries and bookings for the newly opened Raffles in Udaipur," she said. 

Other destinations such as Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Visakhapatnam are doing well, with hotels such as Pullman New Delhi Aerocity and Sofitel Mumbai BKC seeing a good share of bookings, especially over the weekends, she added.

Since its reopening in July 2021 after the second wave, MRS Hotels that manages boutique hotel Narendra Bhawan Bikaner, Suryagarh Jaisalmer and Mary Budden Estate in Binsar, Uttarakhand, has seen a 40% increase in bookings for August-September over the same period in 2020.

“Boutique hotels stand to benefit in a post-covid world as consumers are aspirational about hosting experiential and instagrammable mini-celebrations at beautiful locations instead of large celebrations," said Siddharth Yadav, vice-president at the company.

Anthony Bellm, who owns Kahani Paradise, a luxury villa in Karnataka’s coastal town Gokarna, said the property is seeing a 70% surge in bookings for the festive season over 2020. “People are currently looking to travel to private, secluded properties within India that will ensure their safety and allow them to enjoy nature and privacy," he added.

Jaideep Dang, managing director, hotels and hospitality group, South Asia at JLL, a real estate consultancy firm, said the average room rates (ARRs) of most leisure destinations are chartbusters. “They are much better than the same time last year. The base last year was too low; that’s why there was an 84% jump in revenue per room (RevPAR) for the top cities," he noted.

Apart from the most preferred destinations in hills and beaches, Dang pointed out that families and the elderly are preferring luxury boutique hotels or homestays. There’s the short horizon and impulsive travel as well, fetching a lot of business to places such as Jaipur and Chandigarh.

“For instance, for the Janmashtami weekend (27 to 30 August), there is extremely low availability of rooms across five star and luxury resorts in and around Delhi and Chandigarh. I am informed that while there have been cancellations at short notice, the rooms are filling up fast because apparently, there are several last-minute booking requests," he said.

Fairmont Jaipur, for instance, has seen an approximately 20% increase in bookings over last year. “Fairmont Jaipur is a popular weekend getaway among our guests from Delhi-NCR. Every year, during this period, we also witness a steady demand from the nearby markets of Gujarat. People like to treat themselves to a staycation for the festive season and this time they also want to make the most of their missed travel opportunities in the last year," said Rajiv Kapoor, general manager, Fairmont Jaipur.

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