Get set, go: domestic travel jumps back from slump

December 19th, 2009 - 1:59 pm ICT by IANS  

By Azera Rahman
New Delhi, Dec 19 (IANS) Planning a winter holiday, but haven’t done your tickets yet? You may be in for trouble. Experts in the travel industry say there has been a jump in holiday bookings this year, resulting in hotels, flights and trains being chock-a-block with reservations.

According to Arjun Sharma, vice president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), the industry has seen a 20-percent jump in holiday bookings in November and the first half of December.

“The travel industry, as compared to last year, has seen a fast recovery. After the recession and Mumbai terror attacks affecting the tourism front badly last December, things are looking up this year. In the first 9-10 months the toll was high, but over the last month and half of this month, there has been a jump of 20 percent in the holiday bookings,” Sharma told IANS.

According to Sharma, more than domestic tourism, international leisure and business travel was worse affected - by as much as 25 percent - because of recession and the terror attacks in Mumbai last year.

While interational business travel recovered by September this year, leisure is picking up as well , he said. “Of course, it will be a while until absolute normalcy returns in the sector, but the tide has turned,” Sharma said.

Private travel operators agree and go on to quote an even higher jump in the holiday bookings this season.

Richa Goyal Sikri, director, group business development of the STIC travel group, said: “It has been an amazing season. From last year’s slump, we have seen an increase of 30 percent in the number of people planning holidays either in India or abroad this season.”

Agreed Sabina Chopra, co-founder of yatra.com, a travel portal.

“There has definitely been an increase - around 30 percent - in the number of travel bookings this year. For many people, it’s actually like taking a holiday after two years - last year they had to cancel their plans owing to the meltdown and the terror attacks,” Chopra told IANS.

While the hottest destinations this season are more or less the conventional ones - Goa, Kerala, Mount Abu, Ranthambore and the like - there are a few new places which have featured on the traveller’s list.

“Dubai is one of the hot new destinations this year, internationally. With the meltdown there, the prices of hotel bookings have dropped by 20 percent, making it an attractive travel option,” Chopra said.

Turkey, the Maldives, Hong Kong and even Bhutan are some of the other international destinations that are being opted for by travellers.

Ashima Jain, a business executive who is taking a trip to Bhutan with her husband, said: “We got married last month but for some reason couldn’t plan our honeymoon immediately.”

“Therefore, we decided to take off in the week between Christmas and New Year and have a grand yet private celebration somewhere far off. A friend who had visited Bhutan recently told me about its pristine beauty and since we didn’t want to go to a place crowded with people, it sounded perfect,” she added.

On the domestic front, a number of people are also opting for pilgrimage and religious travel.

“Shirdi in Maharashtra, Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh and Vaishno Devi in Jammu are some of the places where a lot of people plan their pilgrimage and this time we are seeing an increasing number of bookings,” Anubha Dey, a travel agent in Delhi, said.

Sikri said: “A lot of people are going back to the hill stations this year, despite the chill. Places like Kasauli are completely sold out and you will hardly get any accommodation there now.”

All said and done though, Goa remains a real favourite.

Saurav Sharma, a college student who has planned a trip to the land of exotic beaches, said: “I went to Goa to celebrate the new year in 2008 and have been wanting to go back ever since.

“In all possibility we will not get any accommodation because hotels are fully reserved around this time, but we will manage. It’s just the perfect place to holiday.”

According to latest tourism ministry data, the number of domestic tourists visiting Indian states in 2008 was 562.92 million, recording a growth rate of 6.9 percent. The number of Indians visiting foreign countries in 2008 was 10.65 million, recording a growth rate of 8.8 percent.

(Azera Rahman can be contacted at azera.p@ians.in)

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