Post the COVID-19 second wave, the hospitality sector is seeing a recovery in certain pockets of the country as people reunite after almost two years
It is now a familiar, if admittedly ironic pattern: when cases go down, travel goes up. Despite the brutality of the second wave, just a month later, with the steady decline in COVID-19 cases, people are setting off on vacations again: reuniting with family and friends, or just breaking away from the tense, lonely monotony of lockdown by heading to the hills, beaches and mountains.
Reeling under the brutal impact of the pandemic, the hospitality sector is slowly seeing a recovery in pockets of the country. States like Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have relaxed the mandatory RT-PCR test for tourists, encouraging more people to visit. Institutional quarantine is not required any more for those crossing State borders, making short holidays possible.
Crippled by the uncertainties due to the pandemic, the hospitality sector is still far from a complete recovery. However, the current influx of tourists is bringing some hope for the sector, battered by a financial crisis like never before. According to a recent survey carried out in Tier-1, 2 and 3 cities by Thomas Cook India and SOTC Travel, a significant 69% respondents indicated a keen interest to travel in 2021 as restrictions ease, with 18% ready to travel immediately post-unlock and 51% within three-six months.
After almost one and half years of staggered lockdowns, families are grabbing the chance to reunite. “We went to see our grandchildren for the first time since the pandemic began, and had a family get-together at The Park in Visakhapatnam. This was our first holiday in the last two years with the family,” says Ramesh Sanagapally, who flew from Delhi with his wife.
“Last-minute bookings are driving the demand for our hotels; we anticipate an even further uplift in occupancy in the last week of July and first week of August,” says Kerrie Hannaford, vice president — Commercial, Accor India and South Asia. The hospitality group is seeing the highest signs of revival in demand in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad, driven by weekend getaways and staycations.
From discounted packages on long stays, renting out entire villas with customised adventure activities to offering free date change for air travel for flyers who test COVID-19 positive, airlines, tour operators, hoteliers and adventure activity groups are attracting tourists with a slew of offers.
According to Gandharv Singh Dod who runs the Lagom Stay resort at Jagatsukh near Manali in Himachal Pradesh, profits have doubled post the second wave.
“We are getting a lot of bookings for people who want to stay with us for even a month, to be away from the city crowd at a relatively secluded location and work from here. We sweeten the deal with a package that includes traditional home-cooked food, visit to century-old homes in nearby villages, weekend adventure activities like trekking and rafting, and facilities like WiFi and power backups to facilitate work-from-home,” he says. The package includes a visit to traditional 100-year-old homes at the nearby villages, where the guests get to experience the culture and taste traditional food. “The minimum booking duration has increased to five days in the past one month, as against tourists preferring to stay for two to three days a year ago,” he says.
Tour operators say that the demand for outdoor and adventure travel is seeing a huge surge. “Himachal continues to head our favoured destination list with an over 100% week-on-week increase in queries. Top experiences include biking tours of Spiti and Kinnaur valley, camping sites at Barot, Gispa and Manali, paragliding at Bir and Billing. Biking trips have witnessed a significant uptick with over 50 bikers booked with us,” says Rajeev Kale, president and country head of Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook India.
Sterling Holiday Resorts is witnessing an increase in bookings at its drive-to destinations like Mussoorie, Manali, Mount Abu, Nainital, Kufri, Lonavala, Kodaikanal, Yercaud and Godavari. “Sterling has re-opened in all its 30-plus destinations,” says Vikram Lalvani, chief of revenue, sales and destinations, Sterling Holiday Resorts, adding that this includes vaccination of all resort staff. Stating that their resorts in the North and West were the first to see a surge in occupancy followed by the recently re-opened South and East resorts, he adds, “Occupancy is better than the past year.” The leisure holiday brand is seeing a rise in predominantly family travel with an uptake in small corporate incentives and conferencing as well as destination wedding queries.
In Araku Valley, near Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, tourists have started trickling back in. Borra Caves recorded 700 footfalls during the past two weekends with 400 footfalls on weekdays.
“From past two weeks, weekend occupancy levels have been around 50%,” said Giri Prasad Reddy, Divisional Manager of AP Tourism Department. He adds, “The post second wave recovery has been quicker than what we saw after the first wave.”
Even as the tourism industry opens up to a big influx of tourists, hotels are also trying to be responsible with initiatives to support those affected in the pandemic. Treehouse Hotels has started ‘The bag of hope’ to help COVID-19 infected patients and families around Bhiwadi, Rajasthan with simple, nutritious meals. They have now extended this initiative to their guests so that each person spending on a room for the night, also contributes to feeding 50 people in the community. The guests have to simply book a room at any of the participating hotels under the ‘Bag of Hope’ package on dates of their choice.