Coronavirus pandemic drives demand for quick getaways

Tourists search for respite from pandemic & lockdowns close to home


July 18, 2020

/ By / Kolkata

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coronavirus pandemic

The early birds amongst domestic travellers find that the destinations are relatively empty making the trip more memorable (Photo courtesy: Riddhi Roy)

As lockdowns are eased, thousands of Indians are taking off for quick getaways in destinations close-by even as tour operators wait for business to pick up.

‘‘Instead of selfie sticks we had sanitisers in our hands and many of our selfies and groupfies were masked,’’ recounts Riddhi Roy, a travel executive based in eastern metropolis of Kolkata. Roy and her family recently went on a drive to Mandarmani, a popular beach destination about 175 km south of the capital of West Bengal.

As this was the first getaway for the Roys since the lockdown was clamped down on March 25, the family was certainly excited about the break, but was very cautious about safety and hygiene. ‘‘We were very careful during the break. We chose Mandarmani as it was at a drivable distance, we drove our own car as we wanted to avoid any kind of public transport. We also carried our own food and even tea and did not stop at any roadside eateries,’’ says Roy.

The Roys found that in many ways travel after the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic has changed significantly. Yet, the basics remained the same. ‘‘It was a mixed experience where there was fear as well as that excitement to travel after being forced to stay at home for four months. Of course, we are more careful and were happy to take precautions as long as we could travel. For instance, we carried lots of disinfectants to clean surfaces that we would be touching in public areas. At the end, I think it went off very smoothly, including crossing police check points. We were apprehensive as we were travelling during the lockdown through the containment zones. But there were no such hassles. And finally, no matter what the happiness of traveling still remains the same,’’ adds Roy.

The desperation for travel is visible across the country. Nearly 1500 km away from Kolkata, in Bengaluru, the IT hub of India, Ankita Roy, a senior research analyst had the same urge to get out of the house and go on a long drive. So, she and her husband chose Madikeri, a hill resort town in Coorg district of Karnataka, about 270 km away.

In many ways, Ankita Roy’s experience was very similar to that of Riddhi Roy. ‘‘We travelled to Madikeri in the Coorg District in Karnataka, for three days as it was within a reasonable driving distance from Bengaluru. We took our own car and carried our own food for the way so that we did not have to stop anywhere. As a precaution we carried masks and sanitisers, which have anyway become an integral part of our lives. The drive was smooth, in fact faster because of lesser than usual traffic. We did not come across any police check points,’’ says Ankita Roy, adding that through travelling in times of corona was not very different from the earlier travelling, save for a few additional precautionary measures, but it was better due to fewer people around.

The couple stayed at the Taj hotel in Madikeri saying they were impressed by the hygiene measures and precautionary steps taken by the hotel to keep the guests safe. She also says that she got a special deal on the meal packages at the hotel, making her overall experience worth it and has encouraged her to plan other getaways. ‘‘I would definitely go again before the situation normalises but may be to another place within driving distance from Bengaluru. However, I have not yet gained the confidence to go through airports and airplanes for leisure travel yet,’’ she adds, describing herself as a travel enthusiast who keeps looking for reasons to get away.

Not everyone travelling was, though, at as much ease. “Being aware of how easily this disease can get transmitted, a large share of our mind was always occupied with how we can take extra precautions, especially as we were travelling with a four-year-old. The boot of the car was full of all the extra things we had to carry. As the freedom to move around freely was curbed, we felt extremely restricted in mind and body,” Sarbani Chakraberty, from Kolkata, who also took a trip to Mandarmani, tells Media India Group.

The desire to getaway and the increasing demand for weekend getaways is a relatively new phenomenon to India where two decades of economic boom has seen a major shift in the lifestyle of upper and middle-class families. With higher disposable incomes, development of travel infrastructure such as hotels, roads and air connections and the need to get away from it all every so often, Indians, especially the younger generations have been hitting the road frequently enough to force tourism professionals to come up with products catering to this demand.

Though travellers are taking some precautions, few are paranoid about Corona

Hence, when the millions of them were forced to stay indoors and barely allowed to leave their gated communities, the desire to get away for a couple of days was perhaps much stronger than the fear of contracting the illness. This is perhaps the reason why many tourism destinations within a driving distance from a major metro are witnessing a bump in tourism.

This development may have come as a relief to hotels and other vendors in these destinations, but the travel agents say they are yet to get any revenues from the initial movement of people that has started. They say that most of the people are completely autonomous about travelling and there is practically nothing that they seek from an agent. ‘‘This is the biggest change in travel patterns of today. The millennials and the well-to-do executives use technology to make their bookings for tickets, hotel stays as well as other services. They are not even approaching us for any advice, leave alone for any bookings,’’ says a senior manager of a mid-sized Kolkata-based travel company, Dolphin Travels.

‘‘We are getting enquiries for the Durga Puja and Diwali season. Tourists are keen on traveling once this pandemic settles down. We have enquiries for travels to other states in India after Diwali and I don’t expect international travel to restart in a serious way until end of this year or early 2021,’’ she says.

The manager goes on to say that the travel industry needs government support at this crucial juncture when they have spent nearly six months without earning a single rupee. She says that more than money, the government needs to create an atmosphere that is conducive to travel. ‘‘More than anything, the government should go out and try to remove the dread of coronavirus from people’s minds. They should encourage them to travel again, with appropriate hygiene and safety measures of course; but the emphasis should be that travelling is okay and safe. They should also get rid of policy reversals every second day as it creates a lot of uncertainty when suddenly a state or a district decides to reimpose lockdown, without any reason or strategy. We need consistency from the government and only then will people have the confidence to travel again,’’ she adds.



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