Hilton Goa Resort Lounge Pool.
Nothing deters Indians from travelling, when Goa is the destination. The lockdown may have restricted travellers for a few months owing to the mandatory COVID tests, but no sooner did Goa relax the rules, that there was an influx of domestic travellers from across the country.
Waiting to break-free and experience unbridled fun albeit in the form of ‘stayacations’ and ‘workacations’, from friend’s villas to budget hotels and way-out, but well-equipped five-star resorts, travellers sought them all.
While till March 2020, about 7 million tourists entered Goa, owing to the lockdown, the numbers naturally plummeted starting April, to only 11.5 lakhs till August (Department of Tourism - Government of Goa). During November-December, the ratio of foreign nationals to Indians, each year typically is 60:40 with a minimum length of stay being 7-14 days. This season however, was different.
Yet, clearly, even in the absence of the usual chartered flights bringing in approximately 2 lakh foreign tourists, Goa is still better off than many states owing to domestic tourists and if the average 70 percent occupancy in hotels is anything to go by, Goa is headed in the right direction. Bag-packers were conspicuous by their absence, but families and couples thronged the state.
Nilesh Shah, President TTAG, reiterates, “From 15 percent in September the numbers were up by 30-35 percent in October and about 70 percent plus in November-December. Yet, domestic tourist numbers in September were about 20 percent of the figure for the same month last year.” Although the trickle began in August, it was in September when Covid tests were no longer mandatory, that all roads led to Goa.
Different waves of tourists coming into Goa was witnessed during the pandemic. Ralph de Souza, Chairman, de Souza Group, Goa, elaborates, “The first wave was when people from metros who desperately wanted a break, sought rental villas and cottages for long-term of about 2- 3 months and came with their families, house help, pets. Many opted for luxury villas priced Rs 25,000-30,000 per day, but because it was long-term, they managed to negotiate attractive rates. The second from Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities opted for budget hotels which they booked online at discounted rates and resorts, where the average spend was Rs 7,000 per couple per day. A third wave saw people who generally go for international holidays, but could not this year, so drove into Goa and stayed in luxury hotels and resorts. While these hotels normally sell at Rs 25,000 per room night, this year the going rate was Rs 10000 to 15000, prior to the peak season.”
The 70 daily flights into Goa from across India are packed, 20 between Mumbai and Goa daily, yet, with the fear factor prevalent, many preferred to drive in their own vehicles, some even long distances. Nandita Anand, a software professional and her family, for instance, drove from Delhi to Goa, the distance notwithstanding.
Airport pick-ups have thus reduced considerably this year. According to Vishal Singh, General Manager, Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Goa, a majority of guests indicated interest in traveling with family, resulting in the growth of driving holidays, as people were keen to travel to destinations within close vicinity and Goa fit the bill.
Domestic tourists have rediscovered Goa over the past decade or so, and as a result of middle-class mobility in India and easy accessibility, the numbers have steadily been increasing. The pandemic heightened this trend owing to the state being relatively restrictions-free.
Domestic leisure is expected to continue driving hotel occupancies, acquiesces Bhagwan Balani, General Manager, ITC Grand Goa. Travellers now prefer well-equipped resorts, which take care of all their needs without having to step out. He adds, “In these past few months while Goa has been on the must-visit list for most domestic travellers, the business has gradually grown for the destination, while international travellers are still looking forward to their annual visit. Interesting stay packages like all-inclusive meal packages, which suited the travellers’ needs, have been popular.”
ITC Grand Goa Resort Spa.
When the pandemic struck, there was less influx of regular travellers. However, there was little or no change witnessed in the demographics of guest profiles. Bharat Ratanpal, General Manager, Azaya Beach Resort, Goa, avers, “Guests in the age group of 25 -35 years are mid to high-range spenders, and guests 40 years and above, are relatively premium and not price- sensitive. There has been a 30 percent increase in spend by domestic travellers specifically over last year.”
Amandeep Grover, General Manager, Hilton Goa Resort, adds, “The guests staying with us are primarily domestic tourists coming in from Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Ahmedabad. The current spend is subjective, but the average room rate is Rs 10,500 plus taxes.”
Out of the usual approximately 46,000 plus room nights that Goa offers, currently 27,000 are available in four-star and five-star hotels, as most of the smaller resorts and hotels, remain shut. Five stars in any case, are the first choice of many, for their perceived better safety and hygiene protocols. According to Grover, guests have confidence in established hospitality brands due to the various protocols and Hilton’s CleanStay protocol helps address those concerns.
At Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Goa, too, physical touch has been replaced by a touch of safety with the introduction of I-ZEST: IHCL’s Zero-Touch Service Transformation – a suite of digital solutions across its hotels.
With swimming pools being closed as per government regulations, guests went a step further, opting for suites with individual private plunge pools for the family to frolic in. Azaya Beach Resort in South Goa, with this offering, thus scored over other hotels. The usual touristy areas in North Goa like Candolim and Calangute, were comparatively emptier, as vast, expansive spaces were sought after rather than the usual crowded beaches.
While 5 stars bounced back after several months, amassing some business courtesy high-spenders, at the other end of the spectrum were all-male groups, who drove into Goa in the pre-New Year week, owing to night curfews in their states, did not check into hotels, but instead drove around in their vehicles, drank and dined on beaches and went back, not contributing in a large way, to the State’s revenue.
Grover sums up, “Individuals are looking to balance their personal and professional life in this pandemic, and concepts like ‘staycations’, ‘workcations’, and ‘drivecations’ have given them a way to fulfil their travel itch. Goa has always been one of the most popular vacationing destinations in India and remains the preferred domestic travel destination even today.”