Just as Deepika Deepti was settling into her new role as CEO of a fashion brand, the Covid lockdown was announced — and the fulltime professional took on the added roles of 24×7 pet parent and home chef for the next few months. As the relaxation of the lockdown was announced, Deepti realised she could keep up with her busy schedule from anywhere, so why not from a cosy, pet-friendly cottage in the mountains, she pondered. Thus started her plans to look for a place in the mountains where she could set up a home office for a few weeks at a stretch.
New work guidelines, working from home without compromising on productivity, school lessons conducted online and attention to hygiene in the Covid era have changed the way city people consider their year-end vacations. While slowly but surely, people have started heading out, the quick weekend dash has been replaced by a longer stay. With office attendance not mandatory, all that professionals now need is a WiFi connection and the H in WFH could mean a hill home, highway hotel, farm hangout or a beach hut.
Simran Kodesia, communications lead, Airbnb, observed that online vacation rental consumers exploring long-term stays, flexible accommodations, unique features and affordability. One of the biggest trends, Kodesia pointed out, was longer stays with people searching for temporary relocations either to be closer to family or to work from a destination of their choice. Other major searches have been options for long breaks with children. “The consumers are also increasingly looking for unique accommodations such as tree houses, farm stays, lodges and campsites and preferring local road-based travel,” Kodesia revealed.
Search trends at online reservations agency Booking.com too show a preference for long stays. This has prompted the company to introduce weekly and monthly rate plans, said Ritu Mehrotra, country manager (India, Sri Lanka and Maldives). Besides metros like New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Bengaluru, Mehrotra disclosed that the top booked destinations for October are Lonavala, Jaipur, Manali, Goa, Darjeeling, Shimla, Rishikesh and Digha in West Bengal.
The first long weekend in the unlock period and the restart of domestic travel activity is a ray of hope for the hospitality sector. Prominent operator Ankush Nijhawan, MD, Nijhawan Group and co-founder, Travel Boutique Online, has noticed a surge in demand for Lonavala, Alibaug, Mussoorie and Shimla, in particular, and for the states of Rajasthan and Goa, in general.
While most international destinations are closed, Nijhawan said, “With ample health measures and precautions in place amid the pandemic, Dubai is witnessing the onset of outbound travellers from India. That city is inching towards becoming a minimum of 6N/7D destination with an escalated demand for luxurious homestays.”
While Daniel D’Souza, president and country head (Leisure), SOTC, underlined the focus on curated travel itineraries to avoid public transport, Vipul Prakash, COO, Goibibo, noticed significant increase in bookings for weekend getaways and holiday products, and almost 70% of the bookings are for drivable destinations or those within 400km from the home city.
Similarly, ITC’s area manager Benita Sharma felt people were more confident about leaving home now and so weekend stays were soaring in her hotel group’s leisure properties in and around Delhi. Jayant Singh, managing partner, Treehouse Hotels, said people were travelling to nearby resorts or boutique hotel chains that are convenient for them and safe too, being close to their homes.
Puneet Satija, director, F&B, The Lodhi Hotel, added that any property with big open spaces and amenities such as pool and all meals in the room are much favoured over the weekends. People evidently seek a quick change in the scenery within the city to beat the fatigue of working from and living at home.
With most hotels now open, wedding-related travel too is showing up as a trend. With only small wedding functions allowed, ITC’s Sharma found events being planned even on ‘non saya’ days. Hotel chain Accor also discerned a pent-up desire to celebrate all the occasions that fell during the lockdown. Its campaign, Missed Celebrations, which allows people a second chance to mark missed occasions like anniversaries, birthdays, family dinners or gatherings with friends is doing well in all its hotels.