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After a year of missed holidays, Indians are taking frequent travel breaks as the pandemic ebbs in the country, sparking faster business recovery for travel firms. Executives from online and offline travel operators said they expect bookings in February to be around 65-70% of last year.

The growth is led by leisure travel as firms launch promotional campaigns and offer discounted packages to woo travellers. After running India Holiday Festival sale in January, Thomas Cook is back with customized packages for Valentine’s Day weekend.

“Given limited reopening of international borders, we have focused on the India domestic opportunity with encouraging results: domestic holidays business demand improved during Q3FY21, with a 9X growth in sales over Q2FY21. January 2021 has delivered a recovery of over 75% vs January 2020," said Rajeev Kale, president– holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India) Ltd.

MakeMyTrip and Goibibo are also betting on leisure travel as long weekend getaways continue to attract bookings. December quarter data from MakeMyTrip showed that in the hotel segment, domestic room nights stay reached approximately 37% of the levels achieved a year ago, with December 2020 ending at approximately 45% recovery. Domestic passengers segments flown in Q3 recovered to over 47% of the levels achieved a year ago.

“While leisure travel demand has been leading recovery, we are encouraged to see early signs of recovery within the business travel segment, the recovery in small and medium enterprises segment is greater than corporates but both are showing very encouraging signs of business recovery in step with the increase in economic activity," said Rajesh Magow, co-founder and group CEO, MakeMyTrip Ltd.

By December 2020, the overall air and hotel volumes booked through SME-focused programme had exceeded 40% versus pre-covid levels. Cleartrip said its booking volumes in Q3 rose 30% from the September quarter and the growth has sustained this quarter as well.

“We expect bookings this month to be around 65-70% of February last year. Leisure travel has driven the recovery, and we expect this trend to continue. However, business travel has also started reviving as seen in Mumbai, New Delhi, and Bangalore in the top 10 routes," said Rajiv Subramanian, vice-president, Cleartrip.

From a MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) perspective, Thomas Cook managed over 67 virtual events and 17 physical events as of January 2021. “Our corporate travel business has issued over 85,000 tickets in 9M FY21. Since the restart of corporate travel, the business has registered a revenue recovery of 14%," said Indiver Rastogi, president- global business travel-Thomas Cook (India).

SOTC Travel, too, said that there has been a shift to virtual events and in the short-term, hybrid events are a preferred event format. "In addition to corporates in India, there has been a demand for Virtual Events from corporates based in the ASEAN countries," said SD Nandakumar, president & country head, B2B & Foreign Exchange, SOTC Travel.

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