First green shoots of domestic group travel during Durga Puja

Festive season may bring cheer to tour operators

Tourism

October 21, 2020

/ By / Kolkata

First green shoots of domestic group travel during Durga Puja

Like every year Kashmir remains a favourite destination among tourists even with the current tensions(MIG Photos)

After seven months of total disruption of business, tour operators are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel as demand for group tours within the country begins to pick up for the festive season, starting with the ongoing Durga Puja.

After a complete washout of the summer holidays when hardly anyone across the country dared to even dream of travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Durga Puja holidays seem to be turning out to be better for the tour operators, at least in the state of West Bengal, as some of the residents begin to make bookings for group travels. The first signs of revival in an industry that is currently facing an unprecedented existential challenge has spread cheer in the market.

In mid-September once air traffic connections were restored to most parts of the country, Dolphin Travels, a mid-sized travel firm in Kolkata, launched a small series of group departures for limited destinations like the Doars in North Bengal, Kashmir and Karnataka. Ranging from 4 to 10 days, the tours were priced competitively to attract travellers. Barely a month later, a number of bookings have already been received. “Most of the travellers are from Kolkata and its surroundings and the travellers are in the age group of 40-60 years. The typical group size is 10-14 persons,” says Riddhi Roy, operations manager at Dolphin Travels.

“The demand for the Doars is really picking up from West Bengal. Another surprise was the booking that we received for Kashmir as we didn’t expect group tour to Kashmir at this time as there is tension, but we got booking for that well,” she adds.

Even though the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage across India and the number of infections and deaths keep on rising, it seems that some people have had enough and are now keen on getting out of their homes at least for a short break. Roy says that the ongoing pandemic has brought about a few changes in the tour packages.

“We have basically contracted high end hotels this time. Earlier, we used to choose the budget category hotels but this time we have booked higher quality hotels so that our guests are more comfortable and secure as these hotels organise proper sanitisation on a daily basis and even the vehicles that we hire will be sanitised every day. Our tour leaders will be carrying sanitizer machines from our offices to be sure that all vehicles are properly sanitised. Apart from that we will be giving mask and sanitisers to everyone every day,” Roy tells Media India Group and adds that even though the cost of tour packages has increased the customers are not complaining.

The travel agents say that tourists are no longer scared of travelling as long as the safety and health norms are properly followed. So much so that some travellers are fine to go in the current pandemic even to politically disturbed destinations like Kashmir.

Finding customers may be easier for most tour operators than it looks. Most agents have already a number of customers whose bookings date back from pre-lockdown days. Agents say they are able to roll over the booking amount of such travellers and hence it was not very difficult to sell optional packages to them. “There were lots of bookings with us before the pandemic hit us. The guests wanted to utilize their money. So, we marketed it entirely through social media and WhatsApp accounts of our existing customers. All the bookings done so far have been made through this route,” says Roy.

Encouraged by the response so far, Dolphin Travels has now launched tours through November and December. “We are having some more departures for November as well. We are doing some offbeat destinations to places like Takdah and Shibkhola near Darjeeling and Sikhong in Manipur. We are getting bookings for these destinations as they are very offbeat and virgin destinations,” says Roy.

With the signing of air bubble agreements with a few countries, there is also some initial demand for outbound tourism, notably for nearby destinations like Maldives or Dubai. “We are having queries for Maldives a lot for the honeymoon couple and we are having queries for Dubai as well,” adds Roy.

Despite some revival of business, the travel firms are still very precariously placed as none of them are anywhere near their normal business levels, as a result the fate of the employees hangs in a balance. Even those companies that had earlier been paying full or part salaries are increasingly stopping payments altogether while they wait for clarity on when a proper return of business may occur.

After pleading for help and numerous distress calls over the past eight months, most agents around the country have now given up on the government and no longer expect any assistance. They feel that instead of relying on help that may never arrive, they are better off trying to revive business on their own and to the levels possible. “Atleast for domestic, I am really hopeful because we are getting a lot of queries. And upon talking to people, we understand that they want to travel. The fear and panic may still be there but they want to travel. When people start to travel and others see them doing that the business will grow. We are not getting any help from the government and are doing everything we can on our own. So we are hopeful that domestic will pick up business now,” says Roy.

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