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IN-HOUSE

Short trips and staycations will bring India’s crushed tourism industry back to life

REUTERS/Alasdair Pal
Mountains are NOT calling.
  • Niharika Sharma
By Niharika Sharma

Reporter

Published

An estimated 50 million Indian tourists will have to call off their international travel plans this year. And that’s great for the local tourism industry.

The Covid-19 outbreak is expected to make travel within the country more attractive for Indian tourists, experts believe. “The local holiday market will boom this year as the majority of the people feel safer travelling to nearby destinations close to their homes,” said Rajnish Kumar, co-founder and chief technology officer of travel company ixigo.

Besides feeling safe, tourists may also be lured to local destinations given international travel currently comes with complicated quarantine protocols by governments in different countries.

This is good news for India’s hotel and tourism businesses that have remained nearly shut for around four months now, as most Indians refrained from non-essential travel due to government-directed lockdowns.

Vocal for local

Even as the number of Covid-19 cases in India is on the rise, travellers are taking short-distance trips.

“We have already witnessed emergency travel primarily through personal vehicles, trains and flights, which is the first phase of things getting back on track for the sector. In the second phase, customers will prefer short trips or staycations within the city or in nearby destinations in the same state,” explained Balu Ramachandran, senior vice-president of travel portal Cleartrip.

Ramachandran added that tourists are likely to travel to regional “bubbles,” which are areas that have fewer Covid-19 cases.

One such bubble could be Kerala, Ramachandran suggested, as the southern state’s response to prevent the pandemic has been garnering appreciation globally. As of July 7, Kerala had a total of 5,622 active cases of Covid-19.

Other such “bubbles” may emerge in the coming months as state governments start investing in measures that ensure safe tourism. For instance, Goa, India’s most popular beach holiday destination, has made coronavirus tests mandatory for tourists before entering the state and has forbidden private hotels that are not registered with the state’s tourism department to take bookings. On July 6, The Times of India newspaper reported that there had already been a surge in tourists arriving in Goa on private jets.

Similarly, the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand is welcoming back tourists and has announced certain restrictions on sightseeing to ensure social distancing.

In favour

Indians are already braving the pandemic to travel, data from ticketing apps show.

“Recent trends show that fear and apprehension have slowly dissipated as travellers have learnt to live with the virus,” Kumar of ixigo said. “Our booking data shows there is a rise in travel on a weekly basis and bookings across key routes in June have increased by 45-50%  as compared to the last week of May when domestic flights had just reopened.”

Kumar is hopeful that travel bookings will bounce back to pre-Covid-19 levels sooner than expected.

Hotel chain OYO is hoping to get its first wave of demand post-Covid-19 from religions tourism. ”Pilgrimages (and) road trips to closer destinations will gain momentum, which will lead to generating demand for us,” an OYO spokesperson said.

But even as they venture out, Indian tourists will give top priority to hygiene, followed by the option to cancel at the last minute, if needed, according to a survey conducted by ixigo.

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