A general view of Shimla, Himachal Pradesh (Image by OctoberSonata via Shutterstock)
The rush of people celebrating the end of lockdown restrictions has overwhelmed popular tourist spots and created a shortage of hotels on weekends.
People are eager to take trips of 2-5 days to tourist spots that are not too far away, experts and people in the travel trade said.
Shimla, Manali, Mcleodganj, Auli, Dehradun, Ooty, Coorg, Mount Abu, Wayanad, Munar, Allepy, and other popular destinations, have seen an influx of tourists, especially on weekends, for the past two weeks.
Industry experts have estimated that more than 5 lakh tourists rushed to Himachal Pradesh after the restrictions were eased, while 2-3 lakh went to Gujarat, Uttrakhand, and Goa over the past two weeks.
"Hotel occupancy in Shimla had shot up to 80 percent on weekends in the last two weeks," Sanjay Sood, the president of the Shimla Hotel and Restaurateurs Association said.
Hotels in these places, which are currently operating at a 50 percent cap on occupancy, as set by their respective state governments, have received bookings till August, after tourists experienced a shortage of hotels in some destinations.
"Domestic bookings have more than doubled when compared to April and May and have risen by as much as 50 percent on weekends when compared to the average bookings during the weekends in March," an executive at Welgrow Travels told Moneycontrol.
According to ITC Hotel, the occupancy at its flagship properties like the ITC Kohenur and ITC Grand Chola are 50 percent and 55 percent respectively, much higher than the 20-25 percent occupancy seen in the past two months.
However, despite the massive influx of tourists coming in for the past two weeks, market participants and experts are not convinced that the current pace is sustainable due to the fear of a third wave still looming large.
"Most tourists are taking short trips instead of planned vacations, the average bookings durations at hotels and resorts are much lower when compared to pre-COVID levels," an official from Delhi-based Swan Tours said.
He said visitors were avoiding tour packages and preferred to travel by themselves to avoid the risk of proximity to strangers, which does not bring revenue to the tourism industry.
They are also avoiding participating in high-margin leisure activities being offered at the popular destinations, market sources said.
"River rafting at Rishikesh, paragliding, camping, and guided tours are being avoided by tourists, and we make most of our profits from these events," an official from Adroit Travels said.
The Travel Agents Association of India, a domestic industry body with around 3,000 members, also said that the recent upsurge in tourists is also on account of people looking to avoid the harsh weather which was seen in India during June and starting of July.
"The domestic summer travel season which falls between mid-April and mid-July is almost over and once monsoon hits, people will also stop traveling once again to avoid the hassle of traveling in the rains," an executive from Travel Agents Association of India said.
Travel agents and tour guides also expect that state governments may soon take action against the movement of tourists if COVID-19 cases start to rise again.
Last week, the central government sounded a note of caution against the phenomenon called “revenge travel” saying that it can jeopardize the gains and create fresh COVID-19 cases.
“Virus will get an opportunity to spread again if people continue to move around in hill stations and markets without wearing masks and without maintaining physical distance,” Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the health ministry had said last week.
On July 14, the Chikkaballapura district administration temporarily banned entry to popular weekend destination Nandi Hills starting Friday 6 pm to Monday 6 am in Karnataka, in a bid to prevent crowds and arrest a fresh growth of COVID-19 cases in Bengaluru and its surroundings.