Leisure travel is intoxicating, an integral part of our lives more than ever. Moving out of the mundane, exploring the unknown, and seeing new sights can’t be labelled as instant gratifications; as scores build their lives around travel. After all, globe-trotting is a hands-on learning experience that can’t be replaced by virtual lives. And, topping the list of leisure travellers are Indians, as stated in the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Economic Impact 2019 report.
Leisure travel has been endowed with new perspectives since the pandemic struck two years ago. Nevertheless, consumers of the travel industry seek fulfilment of their wants and no expense is spared for this. Leaving us weak in the knees, none of us can resist the idea of leisure travel; packing bags for a vacation invites an adrenaline rush.
For our information, travel advisories are updated afresh on national and state-advised Covid-help websites every day. With foreign trips out of the question to avoid being stranded, quarantined for days and feared for the new variants they can spring upon us; the Indian traveller is homebound looking at the local front for vacay destinations.
How it began:
Post-Christmas 2021 should have seen multiple cancellations due to the imposition of certain diktats regarding travel. Surprisingly, hotels recorded multiple last-minute bookings; the impending gloom of a lockdown resulting in a reactive urge to break free. Kashmir was the pick of the lot for December 2021, with record-high bookings in hotels and New Year’s witnessing no vacancy in this paradise. On the contrary, public year-end parties were cancelled in tier-one cities like Delhi because of strict night curfews and heavy fines for no compliance; dining in restaurants was also banned in the first week of the year. This encouraged people to look beyond their homes and hearth; jumping at the first opportunity to get out of the city.
January saw maximum bookings for the states of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Kashmir. These locations being feverishly cold in the winter, restrict movement outdoors, which too did not impede travel bookings. Rishikesh, Gulmarg, Sonmarg, and Shimla have topped the maximum searches on the internet for winter holiday destinations and are booked out for the first quarter of this year. Holiday rentals, staycation homes, and affordable motels are also witnessing increased demand from large family units.
Due to the rising Omicron cases worldwide and in our subcontinent, states had issued mandates to work from home and schools to be shut. Gladly, Covid hasn’t been able to make a dent in leisure travel. Hoteliers and travel agencies have witnessed a surge in queries and active bookings for the first quarter of 2022, the same time analysts had predicted that the third wave would peak. Delhi-NCR’s wave reached its peak in January, which could also be a contributing factor for folks to plan stays at places where the wave wasn’t setting a precedent. The basic runaround of Covid-life has left many of us hankering for something spectacular to cope with our modern see-saw existence. Eventually, businesses would have seen minimal restrictions and ease on dining-in curbs sometime in February but the avid traveller is not willing to wait a whole month for things to settle down. This fast-paced trend of last-minute bookings is expected to continue till March.
Omicron in India:
The new variant, Omicron, is making headlines and has already peaked in many states. Versus Delta’s lethal wave, this time the scare is minimal as symptoms are not severe in most cases. However, questions are being raised regarding the high mortality rate. With 1.38 billion people, India has made it to the best and worst lists; the former being 66.8 crores doubly vaccinated individuals and the latter that we are the second worst-hit country after the United States. At home, Maharashtra had the highest number of cases among all states, like the previous waves. Kerala too has reported about 30,000 cases, followed by Gujarat and Tamil Nadu where the daily count is reported to be 20,000. This has led to genome sequence testing being ramped up to confirm the exact plausible variant, particularly to distinguish Delta in the third wave. For now, states like Delhi, Goa, and Uttarakhand have night curfews in place; similar rules are expected to be rolled out by the Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir governments as well.
The ban on dine-in in Delhi was enforced to manage crowd gathering, but now restaurateurs have come up with a plan of their own once the ban is lifted. A majority of restaurants voluntarily plan to introduce reservations on the right of admissions; to summarize if you are doubly vaccinated and with proof then you can dine in. The idea of unvaccinated individuals roaming free has been raising causes for concern; as they can be carriers of infection while remaining asymptomatic. Since 1st January, Haryana had already made vaccination certificates compulsory for entry into malls, restaurants and other public places. Rajasthan too has issued mandatory double-vaccination for all residents post 31st January for entry into public places. India’s Southern Railways has made the double vaccination compulsory if one is to travel on trains in the Chennai region post 10th January. Unvaccinated employees in private and public sectors have been told to work from home, till they receive the jab. Leisure travel is thriving amid the third wave because there are stringent rules in place to check spread. Thus you can be reassured to travel safely at all times.
Hustle & Holiday Hand-in-hand
Back in circa March 2020 schools and offices started operating online. The trapped and overworked work-from-home crowd became founders of a solution to the invariable lockdowns- the workation life. These new additions to our dictionaries and mindsets have found abundant takers. Indian householders prefer holidaying with their family to savour the pause, and online chores continue without sacrificing the offline recreational space devoted to family. A positive outcome of this lifestyle is that no member is left behind, pet-owners take along their pooches too; a multi-generation vacation that was the primary feature of travel in the ’90s. Fast forward to 2022, it is still the perfect travel supplement as it allows one to work virtually and enjoy the rewarding experience of a holiday. Travelling with one’s family has been known to improve relations by making spouses happy, expanding creativity in children, encouraging an open mind and birth memories for a lifetime. Vacations improve life expectancy as they are stress busters boosting brain health as well. Thus it can be safely said that leisure travel is healthy.
Revel in the Rebel Cause:
Making travel plans amidst the current Covid 19 restrictions is being observed as a reaction to the night and weekend curfews, the daily odd-even opening of shops, and the ban on dining-in. It is being labelled as a ‘Rebel Travel’ trend. Set boundaries like curfews and restrictions feel suffocating thus one tries to debunk them albeit in a civilised manner. Humans are social beings that have continually sought an outlet for their FOMO impulse, the inexplicable scare of being left behind. Leisure travel is an assertive form of self-care and indulgence that manages these insecurities. A similar kind of trend, the ‘Revenge Travel’ was seen in India post the second wave. In this leisure travel soared internationally despite there being plenty of active Corona cases in the country and abroad. This retaliatory exercise came with its fair share of warnings; open international borders were capable of inciting the third wave to onset faster than expected.
The Road Well-Travelled:
You would think that the rebellious streak to travel can only drive you to Mussoorie, Nainital, Shimla, Manali or even Gulmarg. Well, think again! Scenic locations like Mt. Abu and Ranakpur in Rajasthan; Kanha National Park and Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh; Coorg in Karnataka; Ooty and Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu; Puducherry and Kanyakumari down south and Leh in the north have found many takers. Solo pillion riders form biker gangs to travel further than most car travellers; driven by wanderlust and the ease of access to go where the four-wheel drive is considered impossible.
What’s more? Airfares have nosedived since mid-January, tempting travellers to travel via air. Interestingly, the low demand for air tickets doesn’t spell out a dearth of leisure travel plans because the keen traveller knows better. A large chunk of travellers chooses drivecations over travelling in closed airspace with a hundred other strangers. A smart switch from serpentine queues has driven trotters in favour of a personally controlled environment, i.e. a car or a motorbike. What prompted the choice for road travel was the chaos seen at metropolitan airports in the last few weeks of December; the massive crowd gatherings were feeding the wave’s speed of transmission. The slump being observed in the aviation industry can be made most if one is to book tickets now for the upcoming summer vacation of 2022. Moreover, it is only a matter of time when Covid cases will soon be minimal and airfares will rise exceedingly to meet the surge of leisure travel bookings.
Are We There Yet?
Tourists feel there is no reason to shy away from travel as long as all precautions and safety measures are in place. Yes, Covid prompted leisure travel plans to be made. Until mid-January alone, 75-80% occupancy has been recorded in many hotels of Northern India. What could be better for the Indian hotel industry, than cautious and vaccinated travellers checking in every single day? Travellers are adept at planning well-crafted short and long trips to rejuvenate themselves. Domestic travel is the wiser option if you are looking for a safe getaway in the current third-wave scenario.
To escape the case surge in your city, it is better to book an offbeat location where traffic is minimal to keep up with the social-distancing requirements. Nature and its refreshing air should be an intrinsic part of the locale you pick. Secluded places have an undisturbed beauty and peaceful vibe that allow you to truly unwind. With checks on night movement and weekend curfews in place, travel on a weekday before impositions begin. Also, carry hotel reservation copies to ensure smooth passage during unavoidable late hours. Some states are only allowing tourist traffic that is twice-inoculated to ensure maximum safety. Thus, it is the least risky to make travel plans after one is completely vaccinated. Regardless of the state’s rules, carry proof of inoculation and the latest RT-PCR negative report handy. Predictions are being made about the booster mandate, as a probable contingency for travel guidelines and onsite workforces in all sectors.
The words of the honourable Dalai Lama, “Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before,” remind us that life is incomplete without leisure travel.