How safe is it to go on a weekend getaway or head out to leisure destinations like Goa or a pilgrimage? The answers may vary but travellers are keen to venture out to nearby locations and weekend getaways. The trend marks a welcome change for India’s tourism and hospitality segments. While Diwali booking trends on OYO touched almost 100 per cent level as compared to pre-COVID years, the emergence of popular leisure destinations such as Jaipur, Kochi and Goa shows that travel is witnessing an uptick in demand and travel bookings are expected to witness steady growth in the coming months.
In this exclusive interaction with The Financial Express Online, Harshit Vyas, SVP & COO, Franchisee Business – OYO India and South Asia, shared his thoughts on the travel bookings and trends. Coming from Bhilwara in Rajasthan, Harshit Vyas values the importance of travel in bringing families together.
On the personal front, he is family-oriented and known to have a green thumb, which is to say that he has more than 100 plants grown at his home. A fun fact about Harshit Vyas is that he spends a lot of time making trips to the nursery for plants, instead of the shopping mall. His love for travel and cuisines is well-known, as is the quirky fact that he savoured one of his most memorable meals on the 37th floor of a helipad that turns into a restaurant at night in Malaysia. Ask Harshit Vyas about his favourite holiday destination and it turns out that it is Mykonos in Greece. Travel enthusiasts, add these to your bucket list!
In this conversation with The Financial Express Online’s Swapna Raghu Sanand, he shares quirky fun facts such as he savours Italian cuisine the most and is currently watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix! When it comes to work, Harshit Vyas believes in being meticulous and taking hand-written notes in his diary.
Cities like Shimla, Manali, Munnar, Ooty and Gangtok are now seeing an uptick in terms of traveller demand. Does this signal a revival of consumer sentiment in taking long trips to hill stations and Nature centric destinations?
Yes, this demand mainly stems from the relaxation of regulations combined with rising consumer optimism and aspiration to travel for leisure. With several states that are known for their hill stations opening up their borders and welcoming tourists once again, and the increasing popularity of road trips, we’re seeing an upswing in inter-state bookings across the country. This will result in the steady recovery of small, local businesses and eventually, accelerate the revival of domestic tourism in India.
Also – a micro pattern – while Ooty sees an increased uptick, its scenic neighbour Kodaikanal doesn’t. While Munnar witnesses an uptick, Nature-centric spots like Thekkady haven’t. How does one reconcile to these emerging variations cutting across nearby locations as well?
Leisure hotspots with higher road connectivity, shorter routes and distances from cities, regulation relaxations and initiatives to enable flexible commuting are set to see higher demand in the coming months. While some destinations are recovering faster than others, there are green shoots across leisure cities.
In Ooty, for example, the government has introduced an e-pass system to enter the town, whereas, Munnar is a short distance away from mainstream cities like Kochi and Thrissur. Such amalgamation of factors and digitisation are playing a key role in the revival of tourist retreats across the country.
How critical is the NRI when it comes to boosting domestic travel in India? For instance, some of the places mentioned earlier, such as Jaipur, Kochi, Ooty and Munnar, typically see a strong NRI influx.
While such destinations usually see a high influx of foreign tourists, the majority of tourists even during pre-covid days comprised domestic guests. But with the steady comeback of leisure travelers, these destinations are just about recovering from months of slump. Domestic travelers will continue to remain the main focus for local players until air travel resumes to its full glory.
Additionally, hospitality businesses with a footprint in tier 2 and tier 3 markets and those with a focus on the economy segment are usually driven more by local/regional demand and rely less on international travel. They will be at the forefront of leading recovery for the industry.
In your opinion, which of the following is a more critical yet niche travel segment to further tap into for the upcoming year: Solo travel, pod travel, staycation, budgeted accommodation.
Given the current situation, affordability will be a key consumer offering going forward. With cost pressures increasing, we expect consumers to trade down from higher categories to budget, quality hotels. As OYO is in the affordable segment, we are likely to see a slow but sure recovery. We expect most bookings in this segment, followed by leisure travellers who may choose to stay in-city or travel inter-state. With the workforce slowly getting back on its feet, business travel is already on the rise since the past couple of months.
How would you sum up the comeback of leisure travel in India from a travel and hospitality perspective? OYO’s predictive analysis has forecasted an upswing in demand for pilgrimages, road trips and staycation between October and December 2020.
Can you elaborate more on this trend?
- Road Trips: We understood that 56% of consumers would travel via private vehicles to nearby locations, with family or friends, preferably between the duration of 1-3 days. This means that road trips or people commuting to destinations with great road connectivity would recover faster.
- Staycations: As people begin travelling again, there will also be a growing preference for staycations where travellers would prefer independent boutique hotels or even private vacation homes where they can plan get-togethers with friends and family.
- Pilgrimages: India is one of the most popular countries known for its pilgrimages and across India, families are known to travel to the holy cities of India as a spiritual gateway. During times of distress, Indians are increasingly turning to faith. Early September and October, our booking trends showcased a rising demand for the holy cities of Varanasi, Shirdi and Haridwar. Another reason for the upswing in demand for such destinations can also be attributed to their road connectivity and proximity to mainstream cities.
- Cashless: Hotels that have a good digital presence and offer contactless or cashless facilities will benefit from the digital boom
- Budget category of hotels and homes will continue to lead the recovery of the hospitality industry with consumers becoming more and more price sensitive
- Beach destinations such as Goa, Digha, Visakhapatnam will continue to attract tourists from mainstream cities across the country.