Foreign trips nixed, hotels in India see ‘best ever’ season

Struggling to survive since last March, hotels across segments in desi leisure destinations are witnessing their “best ever” holiday rush this winter and are sold outright up to the first week of January. Top Indian hospitality companies say the Omicron fear has led to many rich Indians cancelling their plans to usher in the New Year in foreign locales. They are now scouring for whatever good property is available at any given rate in destinations like Goa, Rajasthan and the popular hill resorts — sea, sand and snow.

Tariffs are back to, if not higher than, pre-Covid 2019 levels in leisure destinations. Even city hotels are seeing healthy occupancies thanks to weddings and the new desi trend of a staycation or local people checking into a hotel for a few days, say hoteliers.

Travel portal MakeMyTrip (MMT) says its latest booking data shows “nearly 35% growth in the premium and luxury hotels segment” compared to pre-pandemic levels. “Leisure holiday bookings for Christmas and year-end travel are picking up again after a knee-jerk reaction following the first few days of Omicron news. People are back to actively planning and booking road trips to drivable destinations…. the advance booking window has become shorter with people booking closer to the date of travel,” MMT spokesperson said.

Puneet Dhawan, French hospitality major Accor’s senior VP (operations) India and South Asia, told TOI: “The ongoing holiday season has seen hotels in India return to pre-Covid 2019 levels, both in terms of occupancy and tariffs. The impact of Omicron has been in terms of some MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) travel being deferred. But individual holidayers are travelling as per planned and all hotels in leisure destinations are almost sold out till the first week of January.”
A leading hotelier in Udaipur said the current average five-star tariff is about Rs 19-21,000, up from Rs 11-12,000 before the peak season kicked in. “In pre-Covid times, peak season rates would go upup tos 15-16,000 daily in five stars but now the city of lakes is seeing upup tos 21,000 due to the demand,” the hotelier said.

Such is the demand for leisure destinations, says Travel Agent Federation of India joint secretary Anil Kalsi, that at this point the brave may find it cheaper to go Sri Lanka than Goa even after factoring in Covid test charges. Working the math for someone planning a trip around the New Year, say December 29, for four nights/five days, Kalsi said: “Delhi-Goa return airfare would be about Rs 25,000 and return Colombo return is Rs 48,000. Yet hotel stays for four nights in a 5 star in Goa costs Rs 2 lakh, while Colombo comes for 80-90,000 only.”
Before the news of Omicron came in last week of November, luxury hotels in leisure destinations had started seeing a few foreign tourists trickle in but that has not stopped due to stricter testing and quarantine rules globally. “We used to mainly see senior citizen foreign tourists. In the second half of November (when India allowed foreign tourists on non-charters) we saw some relatively young foreigners in the age group of 35-45,” said the GM of a leading luxury property in Rajasthan.
Due to Omicron’s concern the preference, like last year, is to drive to nearby destinations. The “preference for drivable destinations (has) increased significantly during this period. We (have) noticed a 30%-40% jump in bookings from 2019,” the MMT spokesperson said.

The travel industry, like the overall economy, is keeping fingers firmly crossed that the revival continues and that Covid soon enters its endemic stage..

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