The rise of niche and curated travel in India in times of COVID-19

Dunes of Thar Desert present a scenic getaway for the locked Down soul ©Anubhuti Krishna

There is nothing we have missed more than travel in the past few months. Whether it is the weekend trip to the town next door or the long leisurely vacation to foreign shores, this summer of being locked down has seen us value every trip that we ever made. The good news is that we can travel again. The better news is that to aid our travel, the industry has come up with unprecedented safety measures and travel plans.

New formats are gaining traction and niche, tailor-made experiences are becoming the new norm. If you are itching to take the road again here are some options you can consider. 

Road Trips & Work-Staycations 

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Homestays & hotels across India have defined new health and safety measures ©ama Stay & Trails Pollibetta Bungalow, Coorg

Road trips have always fascinated us and there has never been a better time to go for long languorous drives than now. With monsoons unfurling through the country and little traffic on the highways, the drives not only promise to be picturesque and stress-free but also safe. While stopping at a roadside dhaba may not be prudent for now, short journeys and long pit stops are catching everyone’s attention. 

Staycations with facilities of babysitting, reliable Internet connections, work desks, and clean homemade meals, offer the flexibility of being able to work to a new place whilst also taking a break. “The concept of work staycations and long-lets is set to grow,” Aashna Khurana, Marketing and Design Head at Karma Lakelands who has been actively studying the evolving travel needs of her guests tells us. “We have already seen offices moving into homes,” adds Aashna “work breaks and long-let are going to be the next big thing.” She and her team at the 300-acre property, therefore, are prepared with villas and tents that promise to fulfil the safety, work, and leisure needs of their guests and have seen a great response from their guests. Like them, homestays across the country have revised occupancy regulations to ensure only one family or group can occupy their properties with some even ensuring the guests undergo a 14-day home quarantine. 

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Travellers can now book private rooms for themselves and their personal staff ©Vivanta by Taj, Madikeri

Hotels like IHCL’s Taj and Vivanta meanwhile have designed special getaways, (called Dream. Drive. Discover. Delight.) that enable travellers to drive to their nearest luxury resort in the convenience and safety of their vehicle. For those who may want to travel with their drivers and nannies, there are special stay arrangements for personal staff too. The city dwellers can check into their Urban Getaways. While the resorts provide guests with private living spaces, recreational activities, and culinary experiences, staycations continue seeing increasing demand as lockdown fatigues sets in. 

Chartered Flights to Uncharted Lands 

If you are not in the mood to drive or if you wish to travel to far off lands (although within India for now), chartering a plane is the next best and big thing. Private charters offer safety, exclusivity, and an air of luxury, which we all can do with right now. The flexibility coupled with privacy and easy access to your destination promise enough value to make it a viable option, and if the numbers are to go by they are selling like hotcakes too. Travellers are no longer looking at flying to far off islands like Maldives and Mauritius but to safe, secluded spots within India. Rajasthan, Kerala, Goa, and the Himalayas are high on the list. 

“The uncertainty and scare of the pandemic have become a major stressor in the metros,” feels Manvendra Singh Shekhawat, Managing Director, MRS Group of Companies, and a known name in travel fraternity. He has used the lockdown period to redesign safety protocols in his hotels and device interesting travel itineraries for his patrons. According to Manvendra, “people are seeking to temporarily move to destinations with vast landscapes, scattered population, and negligible impact from COVID-19.” It is for them, he feels, that a sanctuary in the deserts of Jaisalmer, a palace in the town of Bikaner, or a private retreat in the Himalayas, offers both rest and refuge. With staff that has been quarantined inside properties, strict safety processes and lucrative offers, the getaways that may have felt too extravagant until some time ago are no longer out of the common traveller’s reach and aspiration. 

Private Residences and Sporting Retreats

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Many hotels have introduced recreational activities for guests ©ITC Grand Bharat

If staycations and long-lets are appealing to those who want to work remotely, personal residences are seeing huge traction in the holiday segment. Be it large families, couples, groups of friends, or solo and individual travellers, every segment is open to experimenting with holidaying in private residences and cottages like never before. 

The assurance of negligible contact, easy social distancing, and services like limousine pick-ups are a great pull for luxury seekers.  “We receive several queries on our Safe Staycations,” Benita Sharma, Area Manager, North (Luxury Hotels) & General Manager, ITC Maurya, under whom ITC Rajputana and ITC Grand Bharat have already reopened with stringent safety measures tells us while talking of the opening. Private villas with personal pools, expansive suites with enough room for work and play, options of in-suite fine dining and access to lush golf courses and private gardens, are reason enough for the caged up city folk to make that trip that they had been putting off for months and they are taking up every opportunity.

This story was first published in Lonely Planet India.

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