Omicron fails to scare tourists and increase cancellations

Despite Omicron fears, domestic tourism stays on recovery path

Tourism

January 4, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Omicron fails to scare tourists and increase cancellations

Mussoorie is a year-round attraction for tourists (MIG photos/Mohd Salman)

With reports of Omicron being far more infectious than other variants of Covid-19, the travel and tourism industry in India had feared a sudden halt to the gradual recovery of the sector. However, industry professionals say that so far there has not been the expected flood of cancellations and remain optimistic about the future.

While there has been a significant disruption in international travel as a number of countries around the world have announced or increased travel restrictions following the detection and the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, domestic tourism in India has remained strong, say leading tour operators.

The industry had begun picking pace from October onwards coinciding with the holidays around Durga Puja/Dussehra festivals. The empty hotels and roads of Lansdowne and Mussoorie, two key destinations in Uttarakhand, are now crawling with tourists. People who have been the victims of the strenuous periods of lockdowns for the better part of the year are choosing to travel rather than stay put during this Omicron scare. With fewer options available for Indians to travel abroad, most of them have been forced to travel inside the country. This has led to a jump in demand for various destinations within India. Travel agencies like Thomas Cook are reporting that they are experiencing increased business up to four times as compared to last year for the same period. Leisure travel is the most chosen form of travel among tourists. Hotel staff of Fortune Resort Grace, Mussoorie and Hotel Ravine Palace, Mussoorie say that they are heavily booked for the season and there has not been any significant amount of cancellations even after various states began putting curbs on movements by people.

“There has not been any trend in cancellations currently, but we are closely tracking updates from health experts/authorities, carefully monitoring the situation to keep our customers informed. The focus on India, given limited outbound options, has boosted our domestic business with a 4-fold surge versus 2020 along with Indians displaying a growing appetite for India’s under leveraged locales and hidden gems,” says Rajeev Kale, President and Country Head, Holidays, MICE, Visa of Thomas Cook India, the largest tour operator in the country.

Rise in spiritual tourism

There has been an increase in a particular niche, spiritual tourism. The government for the entire year has been promoting spiritual tourism, which may have contributed to the surge in this niche. In the previous year during November, the Delhi government restarted the ‘Mukhyamantri Tirth Yojana’ which enabled senior residents of Delhi to go on an all-expense-paid pilgrimage to various temples in the country. Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi also inaugurated the INR 9 billion Kashi Vishwanath project which has sparked curiosity among the devotees and has eased the travel to Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.

“Spiritual tourism is witnessing an uptick and both in gratitude and to invoke blessings for the year ahead, Indians are opting for religious sojourns to Varanasi, Amritsar and Mathura, also as a getaway amidst tranquil nature at Devprayag, Dharamshala; a combo of outdoor adventure while trekking, cliff/bungee jumping, river rafting at Rishikesh or a cultural feast at Ajmer, Pushkar, Puri, Madurai or Thanjavur,” says Kale.

“Domestic travel which unlike international is gaining momentum. People are preferring domestic over international for family reunions, work, and most importantly for leisure. Domestic travel might reach its Covid levels by mid of 2022, provided we manage to curb the spread of omicron. We can just hope and pray that people get more committed to safety, hygiene, masking, social distancing & more vaccination. The growth of domestic tourism is a huge opportunity & a sector to be invested in strongly by the government & stake holders,” Jyoti Mayal, president of Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), the oldest association of tourism industry professionals in the country.

But not everyone is happy about the situation, though. Hotel Association of India (HAI), a body of hotels in India, has expressed concern about the situation of business in the current quarter, January to March, saying that the Omicron scare was taking a toll on the bookings during January and March one of the peak seasons for business.

“The sentient among business travellers is currently low owing to then Omicron scare and that is expected to take a toll on bookings during Jan-March 2022 quarter,” MP Bezbaruah, Secretary-General of HAI was quoted recently as saying.

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