The pandemic year — that 2020 is now infamously being referred to — was that of learning. It was of becoming conscious of events that would otherwise just play out in the background, like white noise.
Take for instance, airport announcements. When was the last time you heard one? For the majority of people living on this planet, travelling has become something of a luxury now. It is an activity filled with caution and trepidation; or at least it was, until last year.
But this is a new year — 2021 has arrived as sanguine. Has it then also (re)kindled an interest in people to travel again, especially since it is also marked by a few extended weekends (16 in total)?
“Domestic tourism had already started in November 2020, and December was good. We handled 2,550 clients in the domestic segment,” Pandian Kumaravel, the director of Cholan Tours Pvt Ltd — a destination management company established in 2003 — tells indianexpress.com.
Kumaravel explains the concept of ‘revenge tourism’, saying that 2021 presents a trend which shows people are in dire need to travel somewhere, to go out and relax. “Once the virus waves settle down completely, people will definitely start travelling like never before.”
“Right now, they are inclined spiritually and want to visit pilgrim destinations. They want to go to Tirupati Balaji. They are also interested in Tamil Nadu for its temples, and Kerala and Karnataka for leisure tours. In fact, in December 2020, hotels/resorts in Chikmagalur in Karnataka, and Munnar in Kerala were running full capacity and we couldn’t get rooms!” he says.
Chennai-based traveller and content producer Rohith Subramanian (26) has found a renewed enthusiasm to travel this year. In February 2020, he had returned from a two-year-long motorcycle trip from South America. Having to lock himself home for six months after that “exhausted him mentally”. In 2021, he sees hope. “Thanks to the break, I had a lot of time to rework my travel plans. Once the world opens up, I am doing an RTW (round the world) for four years, starting from Alaska to Argentina, Africa, Europe, Russia, Central Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and then back to the US! The idea is to begin this trip some time later this year,” he says, adding that for him, the “road is the home, and home is where the motorcycle takes him”.
While Subramanian has grand plans this year, and says he does not do “weekend travels”, Hari Ganapathy, the co-founder of Pickyourtrail — an online DIY holiday booking platform started in 2014 — says that after August 2020, they have noticed an increase in “short staycations (weekends and holidays) and consideration of international travel to destinations where an air transport bubble is operational”.
“Popular destinations like Goa, Coorg, Kabini, Shimla, and Munnar have started seeing occupancy rates go up month-on-month and almost reaching 75-80 per cent of pre-Covid levels. On the international front, Maldives has become the top choice for travellers across age groups and sections,” he explains.
“For 2021, we believe ‘staycation’ will continue to stay as a popular choice for quick getaways, especially for the double-income-no-kid segment and the affluent. Domestic tourism will be constrained by supply (cabs and hotels in particular) and we foresee that summer vacation will see a huge uptick in hill stations, with resorts being back to near pre-Covid levels during those periods,” he says.
In December 2020, a Booking.com survey had revealed five emerging trip types and trends for 2021: solo sojourns, breakaway bubbles, weekend wonders, relaxury, and food-based travel.
Riaan George (38), a luxury content creator/journalist from Mumbai-Colombo, intends to tick a few of these trends this year. He shares with indianexpress.com that the “desire to travel has been bubbling”. “I love using extended weekends, and they are all about visiting Indian cities — Jaipur, Goa. I am travelling between India and Sri Lanka, and I have not been able to go back since the lockdown in March 2020. So when international travel starts, I’d like to return and explore some more of that country. I would also like to go back to Australia — I had planned a trip in April 2020, which got cancelled. And of course, when things settle down, I would love to visit France again.
“In terms of domestic places, Kerala is on my list and also the northeast. Between 2020 and 2021, we have gone from ‘no travel’ to ‘possible travel’ — people may be able to get on planes and go to places. Having said that, I don’t think 2021 has made them confident. I think this entire period has broken down everyone’s confidence,” he says.
But Kolkata-based Soumali Adhikary (37), a content creator, has a slightly-different opinion. She thinks the year has boosted people’s will, especially since they have witnessed and lived through the horrors of 2020. “As a family, we have planned our weekends in advance. We Googled some new places to visit, like the Sunderban Delta and Bolpur in West Bengal, as these destinations will take a maximum of two days; we have also planned an extended weekend trip in January,” she shares.
Pilot and content creator Gaurav Taneja from Delhi is also enthusiastic about making use of the long weekends this year. “Lockdown was a trying period for everyone around the world. The positive thing is that because international travel is still restricted, people are now exploring India more, which is good for the domestic travel industry.
“We are exploring Kerala — it is a beautiful place, which we have visited before, but keep coming back to. Next, we will be heading to Gulmarg, after which we are keen on exploring Visakhapatnam. We will also be travelling to Gujarat,” he says, adding that people cannot just take off like they used to. They have to learn about all the COVID-19 protocols of the place they are planning to visit.
Year of classic road trips
Gaurav Aggarwal, the founder and CEO of Savaari Car Rentals sums it up: “With the continuous decline of the COVID-19 cases coinciding with the onset of the holiday season, December 2020 marked the resumption of leisure travel in India, as people felt more confident about stepping out. But, because of the international travel restrictions and safety concerns of people, travel preferences will remain strictly domestic in 2021.
“There are about 15 long weekends this year! As for the Pongal/Sankranti and Republic Day weekends, we have already witnessed a 40 per cent surge in bookings, specifically for leisure and vacations. Multiple long weekends will probably manifest in numerous short vacations. Most travellers are opting for shorter trips or city breaks for vacationing at drivable distances from their homes in order to de-stress themselves. 2021 is going to be the year of classic road trips!”