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Unlock, travel: Solo travel picks up pace, customised self-driven options take the front seat 

2021 is going to be the year of new normal with small groups holidaying for long at homestays run by local communities. Less is more is the travel mantra the next season.

Published: 08th November 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 07th November 2020 05:01 PM   |  A+A-

Before the pandemic upset the apple cart, India was poised as one of the leaders in the tourism industry.

Before the pandemic upset the apple cart, India was poised as one of the leaders in the tourism industry.

Immersive, not superficial-touristy travel is the buzzword now. Overcoming a nine-month locked-in period-of-sorts, travel enthusiasts are getting back to what they do best. Of course, destinations have completely changed and the world is a far cry from the one that woke up to 2020. Sealed borders. Empty city squares. Grounded flights and docked cruise ships with nowhere to go.

Amid all this, there is a renewed lust for travel. Though it’s more Chail and Gokarna now, than New York and Paris. What has added to this sudden push to the travel sector is also the fact that most companies have extended their work-from-home (WFH) periods. For example, Microsoft and Twitter have switched to this new mode till March 31, 2021. Needless to say, it is giving young professionals—who have been home for long stretches—more than enough reasons to travel.

“Bored with the lockdown, unlock, social distancing and all the Covid-19 jargons, youngsters in Hyderabad have already booked four-week-long stays with us. We work closely with cottages, hostels, homestays and rural communities and they are ready to host their guests, with all the Covid-19 protocols in place. An excellent WiFi is, of course, part of the deal,” says Vandana Vijay, founder of Hyderabad-based travel company Offbeattracks. In these times of social-distancing, Nature is set to triumph. It is the hills, sea resorts, wildlife reserves and isolated locations that will win over the traveller.

With easy accessibility to hygiene and a more tailored approach to individual travel demands, glamping and homestays may just become the norm. Just as online travel agency Booking.com predicted in October 2019, it is all slow-mo and not FOMO (fear of missing out).  Before the pandemic upset the apple cart, India was poised as one of the leaders in the tourism industry. The country attracted a massive 10.5 million foreign visitors last year, says a Ministry of Tourism report.

Five million NRIs travelled back home to visit family and 1.8 billion Indians travelled within the country for leisure, while 26 million Indians travelled overseas. Not just that. The tourism sector alone provided 87.5 million jobs, of which 12.75 percent jobs were created in 2019, says a report by Grant Thornton (one of the world’s leading organisations of independent audit, tax and advisory firms) and FICCI. March 2020 put a grinding stop to all that. But things are looking upbeat now. The stress on digital interaction has resulted in limitless possibilities for the service sector. From online bookings and payment, real time updates, reduced physical touch points, better crowd management systems, to sensors for social distancing, wearable technologies, camera surveillance, and more, it’s suddenly a whole different approach to travel.

NEAR IS THE NEW NORTHERN LIGHTS
 
Many travellers may intend to work remotely in a room with a view in 2021. American vacation rental online marketplace company Airbnb has documented stays by entrepreneurs looking for a hub to inspire creativity, digital nomads who aspire to work from anywhere for longer periods of time, and creators discovering their newest masterpiece. Authors, musicians, artists, and athletes alike are increasingly looking for stays with private spaces and retreating to suburban or rural areas from big cities. With India’s much-loved festival season around the corner, guests are either looking at travelling to their hometowns or spending time together as family.

In a survey commissioned by Airbnb and published in June 2020, nearly half of the US respondents said they will prefer to stay within a day’s drive for their first trip once lockdown restrictions lift. Tapping into the demand for nearby trips, the travel company said it updated its app and homepage to help guests rediscover the magic in their own backyards. It also launched a social media campaign—Go Near—to promote both nearby getaways and Airbnb’s recently launched Online Experiences.

The company’s data suggests that over 20 percent of all searches on its platform within the last three-month period in India have been for long-term stays (more than 28 nights) at a property. This shows that with access to technology and remote working infrastructure, people are willing to work-from-hills for months at a time. For example, designer-actor Masaba Gupta spent months in Goa at an Airbnb, working on her new collection. 

Additionally, a further 36 percent of searches have been for stays that are between seven to 27 nights.
With homestays in Manali and Leh offering a month-long vacation with food and WiFi in the hills for as less as `25,000, most WFH techies are booking away their vacations for the last 12 weeks of the year. Patrons are also not shying away from reconnecting with nature through unique accommodations such as tree houses, farm stays, lodges and campsites. Also, with summer coming to a close, many families are exploring breaks with their children, and searches for ‘trips with kids’ account for nearly a fifth of all searches over the last 90 days. Amanpreet Bajaj, General Manager, Airbnb India, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan, says, “In 2021, travel will continue to be more about living, working and connecting safely away from home.”
 
 

DUBAI LEADS THE WAY

Worldwide, travel will take its time to bounce back. It is the entire eco-system that comes into play—from shopping hubs and events to restaurants and mass transport. So for now, travel will need to focus on small steps closer home. But, there are exceptions. Dubai, for example, a city that has shown the world how travel should be, is set on putting international travel back on track. Even as it insists that travellers quarantine for 14 days and wear a tracking wristband, which can be removed after a negative report is generated, it is still playing the perfect host.

Pioneers in the industry such as Atlantis, The Palm Dubai, etc are throwing in a free Covid-19 PCR test for all international bookings for guests who stay five nights or more in the resort until December 18. Timothy Kelly, Executive Vice President and Managing Director of the hotel, says the resort has partnered with one of the Emirate’s leading hospitals to conduct the tests in the resort. “This means that guests can maximise their leisure time without the need to disrupt their vacation with a visit to a hospital or clinic,” Kelly adds.

Closer home, those like the Chennai-headquartered hospitality group, Sterling Holiday Resorts, have tied up with corporate hospital Apollo Clinics to introduce ‘holiday insurance’ besides tech innovations such as QR code menus. They have designed a new set of games and holiday activities keeping the norms of social distancing, safety and hygiene in mind. In some cases, countries like the travel-deprived Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus have announced that they will reimburse your vacation cost if you contract the virus while you are there. With slow movement initially, most tourist places are pushing for lucrative offers with plenty of high-value packages. Even countries such as Japan, Mexico, the UK and Bulgaria are lining up a variety of offers to attract patrons and revive their tourism sector.

CHANT THE HOME OM MANTRA
 
According to the Payback-Unomer Travel Study published in October, since the first unlock, nearly 40 percent of the respondents have either gone back to their hometowns or for a weekend getaway. In the festive season, more than 20 percent respondents are planning a vacation with nearly one-third respondents in South and North India planning their trips. Nearly three-fourth of respondents chose domestic holidays, mostly a weekend or short getaways to nearby destinations. Nearly three-fourth of those who have booked looked at safety precautions (higher than any other aspect), sanitisation certificates and high star ratings as key booking criteria, as opposed to affordable rates, deals and offers, which would swing the vote earlier.

Shivya Nath, India’s top travel blogger, influencer and author of travel bestseller The Shooting Star, has been travel-bound for the last seven years without even a place to call home, was forced to settle down during the lockdown across the world. She says, “Personally, I’m choosing not to travel because I don’t see the fun in socially distanced travel, hiding behind a mask, sanitising all the time and constantly wondering if I’m going to catch/pass on the virus.

Also, I definitely don’t want to carry Covid to a remote community that has no easy, affordable access to healthcare. And even though many livelihoods depend on it, I’m taking a cue from communities who are choosing to stay closed to tourism even if it means a huge loss of income.” She believes that a slow, mindful, remote work kind of travel is on the rise as more and more Indians, both young professionals and those with kids/elderly parents, are realising that metros are unsustainable.

Instead of locking oneself in in tiny apartments, one could relocate for a few months to the countryside and work on the go, says Shivya, who believes in immersing oneself deeper into a place, contribute economically to a destination beyond typical tourism and also build a stronger connection with nature. “I think, and hope, this kind of meaningful slow travel will be the future,” she says.
 
 

SHIMLA IS SO YESTERDAY
 
Like Shivya, Mohit Kharbanda, who travels across the world in his two-seater Raptor and writes for his own website called MovingCompass, says he expects to see the transformation of tourists into travellers. “People would now opt for destinations that are lesser explored. Someone who was a regular at Shimla might head out to a place like Badog instead. Overcrowded places will certainly make way for the lesser-crowded ones. Even international travel might see a shift in behaviour. Country sites would carry the label of safety more than the hustling cosmopolitan streets,” he says.

Places that offer more customised options—be it cottages for accommodation, self-drive vehicles, or even private swimming pools—will enjoy higher preference in the minds of cautious travellers. A cab would be preferred over a bus or a train and a rented bike in Goa would be preferred over a cab.
 “I made a modest compilation of about 111 places in India that could help in making travel plans in the post-coronavirus world. Visiting places within one’s domicile state is the best way to restart.

The challenges are less or limited when you actually choose self-drive,” says travel blogger Usha Tummala. Selecting secluded places by the river/seaside for those long walks, having food that you missed and overall a relaxed weekend travel is the Bucket List today. “This is the ‘Goa state of mind’—watching the sunset into the deep horizon, low-key yet beautiful, choosing homestays, boutique hotels, Indian-based resorts to help boost the economy,” she adds. Of course, there are the adventure-seekers carrying tents, and camping and gazing up at the stars. “The situation seems suited for solo travel and/or groups with minimum size. Also, it’s the best time to make use of all the discounts/vouchers that are being offered by hotels, airlines and more,” he adds.
 
CO-EXISTING WITH THE VIRUS
 
While people are raring to go, there are many who would rather play it safe. Mumbai-based travel influencer Siddhartha Joshi believes it’s still best to avoid non-essential travel right now. “If one does travel, one should opt for 14-day quarantine, and that could be a challenge. Each state has different rules and things are constantly changing. Everything needs to harmonise a little more. We need to find a way to coexist with the virus,” he says. According to him, the ones who are travelling these days are solo travellers, or those with a small closed group of friends.

“Families haven’t started to venture out as yet, and I feel it’ll stay that way for a while,” he adds. 
The year 2020 has taught the world to take things easy, to lay back and admire Nature around you. In the coming year, this thought will only be carried forward defining travel preferences. As the lust for discovering places resurface, travellers would opt for open spaces, fresh air and wildlife. Isn’t that what the soul craves? Entrepreneurs know that the cooped-up Indian is dreaming of going somewhere when the ‘all-clear’ sign blinks to life. Indians love their holidays and it is this thought that is keeping spirits high.

2021 is going to be the year of the new normal with solo travel picking up, customised self-driven options taking the front seat and small groups holidaying for long at homestays run by local communities. Less is more is the travel mantra the next season.

Nature Trails
The Maldives as the top favourite among couples
Back home, the Northeast is an alluring choice, besides the ever-popular Kerala and Goa

52%of modern Indian travellers are hopeful about taking their first post-Covid holiday before December 

Direct flights and self-drive cars will be the preference 

Homestays (23%), boutique properties (21%), and premium hotel chains (44%) are getting the vote among travellers

Destinations that are highly searched

Panchgani 
Maharashtra

Manali
Himachal Pradesh

Mangalore
Karnataka

Mukteshwar
Uttarakhand

How Sweden is doing it 
✥ There is a temporary entry ban in place for non-essential travels to the EU via Sweden
✥ Travel from another EU country, a country part of the EEA, UK and Switzerland to Sweden is possible
✥ Sweden currently has no quarantine obligation
✥ Many businesses in the country are open but physical distancing applies
✥ Restaurants, bars and cafés are permitted to operate
✥ Many museums, such as the Vasa museum and the Abba Museum are open but may have limited opening hours
✥ Stockholm’s sprawling archipelago is known as a summer paradise for visitors. But it’s equally magnetic off-season, when long forest walks, cosy moments by the fireplace and winter swimming are high on the agenda, say Ruth Dolla, Official Spokesperson, Visit Sweden and Jenny E Kaiser, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer.

Top spots for long stays

Gokarna
Situated in Karnataka, it is an escape into one of the most picturesque landscapes. Full of splendid monuments and undisturbed serenity, the virgin beaches in Gokarna will take your heart away. It also has its fair share of trekking spots, watersports and beach camping. 

Chail
If you love panoramic views of mountains, this small place in Himachal Pradesh should be your sanctuary. The weather is, of course, another reason that will get you hooked on to this charming place. The fact that it is still one of the lesser-explored destinations in the state makes it an alluring destination.

Muthyala Maduvu
Roughly 40 km from Karnataka’s state capital, nature and greenery are Muthyala Maduvu’s calling card. Also known as Pearl Valley, it is famous for its waterfall and dense forests. From lazy forest trails and bird-watching to adventurous treks and hikes, it has it all.

Munsiyari
Magical is how one describes this small town. Surrounded by towering mountains in the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand, it boasts a stunning backdrop of peaks with enough hiking and trekking routes.

Solang
Are you an adventure-seeker? Head to this quaint Himachal town. Snow-clad mountains, beautiful lakes, green fields, it has everything to set your spirits high. And did we mention, it is famous for its skiing destination, too? Also, try out adventure activities such as zorbing and paragliding. 

A Historical Joyride

Zenith Hospitality is inviting bikers for Ride for Unity, an international bike ride from India to Singapore via Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia. A 26-day-long route covering 9,000 km across borders, it commences on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's birthday—January 23. The journey will take place in three segments, starting from Delhi/Mumbai/Bengaluru to Imphal in seven days. Then from Imphal to Bangkok via Myanmar in eight days and finally Bangkok to Singapore in another eight days.
The last stop of the journey has historical relevance. The Azad Hind Fauj was initiated at Singapore in 1942, and they travelled the same route back in the day while fighting their battle for freedom. Ride for Unity is a reverse journey for freedom against the pandemic that has terrorised the world.



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