Caravans: Tourism on wheels drives ahead in India

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Tourism

February 24, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Caravans: Tourism on wheels drives ahead in India

With caravan tours catching on in popularity, many states have turned to launching their own tourism sites linked to caravan tourism(Photo: Wacation On Wheels)

One of the smallest niches of tourism in India, but with a big potential, is caravan tourism which has grown rapidly post Covid-19.

The Covid19 pandemic has given birth to or boosted several niche segments of tourism across the world and here in India. The latest buzzwords of tourism to have emerged from the pandemic range from staycation or workation to virtual tourism. One of the lesser heard forms of tourism but which has also caught the fancy of travellers in India is caravan tourism.

Caravans or camper vans are fully equipped drivable vehicles that are roughly the size of minibuses. They come in various sizes, able to accommodate from 2-9 persons and are equipped with a shower and washroom as well as a kitchenette and a living area that often comes with a television.

One of the earliest players in this segment was Wacation On Wheels that was set up by a Nagpur-based couple Neha and Rahul Soman in 2016. Today, they have six caravans on offer for hire from several cities of India namely Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Indore, Bhopal and New Delhi.

Wacation On Wheels has also tied up with over 30 campsites in various parts of India. These include the mountains of Manali or Leh, deserts of Rajasthan, forests in central India as well as beaches on the western coast of India. They say that the time has come for an idea called caravan tourism in India. “Caravans are just about getting some visibility in India, long way to go before we can talk of popularity. But yes, lots of organic searches online for caravans and interest being expressed across India in last 3-4 years,” Neha Soman, director, Wacation On Wheels, tells Media India Group.

As with most other hip demands or even fads of the moment, the demand for caravan tourism is also currently limited to the metros. “I will say people who have been exposed to caravan culture abroad or seen it online. Also, lot of senior citizens wanting to travel in comfort, and pet owners who do not want to leave pets behind on holidays and there are not many pet friendly hotels or travel options,” she adds.

Currently, most of the users of the caravans in India are young couples, though increasingly families with elder persons are also opting for these vehicles due to the perceived safety in terms of hygiene and sanitisation is concerned. “Demand has gone up after Covid as compared to earlier. We can provide door to door travel option across India in a sanitised caravan, with your toilet and kitchen also travelling with you. You are not exposed to any outsiders anywhere in the journey, unlike when travelling by train or planes, where you have to pass through airport lounges or railway station and use same toilet as 100 other people,” says Soman.

The demand for caravan tourism is mostly limited to metros

Even though the demand has been rising, the usage of caravans of Wacation On Wheels remains relatively low as the average usage is between 8-10 days month and most of the bookings are confirmed around 20-30 days in advance. Wacation On Wheels says it offers parking and camping locations across central and western India, in Maharashtra, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

However, not all tourism professionals are sold on the future of caravan tourism in India in the foreseeable future, pointing at various challenges, notably security and lack of organised infrastructure in India as against Western nations where caravans are very popular mode of travel and holiday.

“Caravan tourism is not really picking up in India. Probably it may pick up slowly as we do not have the required infrastructure yet. The first and foremost thing is safety. If people travel for 5-6 hours where will they park the vehicle? That is the security issue. In Europe there is a designated and secure parking area with basic facilities such as water and power connections. Everything is taken care of. There is nothing like that here in India. So it is a niche product and it will slowly will find its way among the rich Indian people and will stay niche,” S Mahalingaiah, director of Skyway International Travel, tells Media India Group.

Besides Wacation On Wheels there are about half a dozen other players in the field. However, currently, none of the players offer self-drive options for caravans. Soman says that this is largely due to the current state of the market which is still an emerging one and secondly due to legal issues. “Self-drive services are some way off in India, as smaller caravans are not available in as many numbers to register a self-drive fleet with any operator. So, the problem of availability as well as legal issues in offering self-drive right now,” she says.

Even though the caravan rental firms offer complete itineraries to help customers choose, some go all the way and ask customers to design their own itineraries. “We encourage customers to make their own itinerary, and in fact keep it flexible. Only a caravan allows you to travel at will and stay an extra day or two at any place you like without worrying about extending or cancelling hotel bookings at all locations in your original itinerary,” she says.

While Wacation On Wheels offers a reasonable pricing of about INR 3,000 per person per night. The caravan that accommodates nine people costs approximately INR 27,000 per night. However, some other companies charge anywhere between INR 25,000-30,000 per day for two adults and up to INR 75,000 for a three-day trip.

Currently, most users of caravans in India are young couples, though increasingly families with elder persons are also opting for these vehicles

With caravan tours catching on in popularity and with an increasing number of companies spotting business opportunities there, many states have turned to launching their own tourism sites linked to caravan tourism. The latest state to join the caravan bandwagon is Maharashtra as earlier this week, the Maharashtra cabinet approved caravan tourism policy to boost employment opportunities in the sector hit by the pandemic.

Through its caravan tourism policy, the Maharashtra government aims to not only to provide a different experience to travel enthusiasts, but also promote tourism in the state’s remote areas and create job opportunities, says an official. “The policy is expected to provide a different experience other than the traditional stays to the people who love to travel. It will promote tourism in remote areas and also create job opportunities,” Valsa Nair Singh, principal secretary of the state tourism department, said. The policy also allows private players to get vehicles for tourism and set up caravan parks at public and private places.

As infrastructure develops and more options for caravan vacations, notably with self-drive options and with more competitive pricing, caravans are set to become more visible on and off Indian highways and offer a real break from home but with the homely ambience and freedoms that come with a home.

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