The Vivanta Surajkund, NCR, is just off Delhi. Surrounded by lush forests, it has special experiences such as bespoke private dining options and sprawling Jiva Spa. Picture Courtesy: Taj Group
The festive season has started kicking in, Covid cases are on the ebb, and the pent-up desire to explore new places or simply chill elsewhere is slowly morphing into a catchphrase called revenge travel. People are now beginning to move around a bit with friends and family, aided in no small measure by the increase in Covid-19 vaccinations. They are often opting for offbeat, non-congested properties at drivable distances from home, in the safety of their own vehicles instead of relying on public modes of transport such as air and rail.
The operative word is properties at “drivable” and selection of hotels is based on its reputation of being a secure branded property taking precautions on food, safety and hygiene--in short, a safe haven which is a home away from home. Many are preferring to go in groups of extended family or close friends, and generally want less interaction with strangers. They want to bask in the serenity of nature or spend quality family time.
The key drivers
People have started travelling again after the second wave to beat the lockdown blues and work-from-home fatigue. Says Mandeep S Lamba, President (South Asia), HVS ANAROCK: “Weekend getaways to motorable leisure destinations and ‘staycations’ at luxury properties in cities have become popular choices for travellers. As a result, hotel occupancy (across segments) in all the major cities have risen month-on-month this June. Mumbai had the highest occupancy (51-53 per cent) during the month, followed by New Delhi (39-41 per cent), primarily driven by staycation and weekend businesses.”
Covid travel restriction and norms have seen travellers preferring places that offer green and open spaces where social distancing does not pose a problem. The demand for private villas has increased significantly. Take the case of Karma Lakelands, a golf resort spread over 300 acres, located right on the Delhi-Jaipur Expressway in sector 80, Gurugram. It has a choice of luxury tents, chalets and villas but the villas are getting sold out a month in advance.
What's on offer
Says Daman Deep Singh, General Manager Karma Lakelands: “Our Karma Villas and garden suite come as the perfect place for groups of 6-8 members looking for private large spaces to rejuvenate. People are now looking for private spaces for family staycation and gatherings away from the crowded hotel lobbies or restaurants and indulge instead in a host of experiences such as a visit to our animal farm ‘The Village’ where guests can experience farm life and witness our organic farming, enjoy indoor and outdoor activities like badminton, cycling, tennis, cricket, squash, table tennis, chess.”
These tastefully designed large boutique spaces measure 600-100 sq yards and come with private lawns, 3-4 bedrooms, and all the modern amenities that a family would require. They are priced at Rs 45,000-75,000 a night plus taxes.
Leisure experiences are the high point of staycation packages. Says Rajat Sethi, General Manager-ITC Grand Bharat, Gurugram: "With families having been confined to home for so long, people are seeking out unique and memorable leisure experiences. We have introduced a variety of offerings for every kind of traveller. From packages like ‘gourmet tales’ for gastronomes to our ‘wellness package’ for those looking to rebalance and rejuvenate, we have something for everyone and the response we have received has been overwhelming."
Hotels are focusing on experiences--vibrant social hubs, rooms that feel like home, lively bars, satisfying dining options, and easy mobile check-in experience. Many are introducing innovative staycation, spa-cation, weekend, work-cation packages along with specially curated food menu to entice different customer segments-–frontline workers, couples, multigenerational families, couples with young kids, group of friends, and corporate travellers, with some even introducing pet-friendly policies.
Take the case of Vivanta Surajkund, NCR, which has created a special Revive, Reinvent and Re-energise package that includes wellness meals and a yoga session. Says Surinder Singh, Area Director–Haryana and Dwarka and General Manager, Taj City Centre, Gurugram: “The demand is relatively higher over the weekends at our properties like Vivanta Surajkund, NCR and Gateway Resort Damdama Lake, which are not too far from the capital city and still emanate the sense of a hearty resort. At Vivanta Surajkund NCR, we have a sprawling Jiva Spa and a host of special experiences such as the Garden Is Yours–-a themed alfresco dinner and bespoke private dining options such as the Barefoot Dining, a highly personalised Mashal Dining or a starlit culinary experience at the Balcony. At Damdama property, guests can rejuvenate with brisk walk-through acres of lush greenery or revel in adventure sports facilities in the resort, indulge in a morning of golf with our mini-putting greens or choose to go for the delightful picnic table experience.”
Food is a major point of focus but there are changes in the way hotels are curating meals and serving them. Says Sanjay Vij, Executive Chef-Vivanta By Taj, Surajkund NCR: “Today, health is everything. There are some changes in the way we serve food. We are avoiding deep fried, and going for baked items instead, apart from focusing on seasonal, organic fare that isn't heavily processed. We don’t want to expose our food and hence serve fruits in micro portions and small jars. We have even altered our buffet timings from 7:30-10:30 a.m. to 10-11:15 a.m. and there is only one person touching the ladle. In international cuisine, after Italian and Chinese, we find interest in Arabic food which is grilled.”
Sports and games are a big draw during stays. Mahindra resorts which added 1,062 members in Q1FY22, have roped in a sports partner. Says Vivek Khanna, Chief Operating Officer, Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India Limited, “People are increasingly looking for outdoor experiences and our acquisition of a strategic minority stake of 6.67 per cent in Rocksport enhances outdoor experience offerings at our resorts. Our members and their families can access specially curated Rocksport programmes in the cities offering unique and immersive experiences. Our initiatives like Club Mahindra ‘SafeStay’ programme and ‘Travel with Confidence’, ensuring highest standard of safety and hygiene at our resorts, continue to instil confidence amongst our members and guests.”
Lonavala and Alibag, the go-to retreats for Mumbaikars are overbooked. “We are practically sold out non-stop with our entire inventory across our six luxury experiential resorts, says Jimmy Mistry, Founder & Chairman, Della Group. “We are focusing hard core on experiential hospitality, creating experiential hospitality packages. There are more than 50 experiences we have innovated during this lockdown and delivered those to our guests so that they can take advantage of it. The marketing team are in a hyperdrive mode working on packages.” They say they do not believe in discounts but instead offering value-added services--a typical 2-night/3-day package which costs Rs 40,000 plus taxes has everything from midnight spa and a session on Zumba and yoga to a hilltop picnic and a nature trek. They have opened a new Italian Restaurant and Lounge, Villa Bistro, which is offering indoor and outdoor al fresco dining and focusing a lot on beverages and wines and have an extensive wine library ready.
Swimming pools are closed due to the pandemic but hotels are curating “one-on-one with nature” experiences. Jehan Numa group’s properties located at the edge of Bhopal city on Shyamla hills and the Bori Jungle Lodge, three hours away from the city, are finding many takers. According to Aly Rashid and Faiz Rashid, director Jehan Numa Group, “We have cycling, nature and village walks, buffer zone drives in the national park, bush TV or movies in the outdoors, Chef's table--farm to fork meals, private dining with an emphasis on the revival of lost recipes.”
Finally, as India moves towards a graded opening up of the economy, people are rewarding themselves by taking a trip to the nearest tourist destination to beat the pandemic blues away. However, safety remains the biggest concern as the Covid count is still rising. Adequate safety measures by the hospitality industry to restore confidence will remain the key to bringing the sector back on track.
Table: Indicative prices of 2N/3D stay across top properties near key metros