Is this the time for backpacking vacationers to seek out some luxury? It’s too early to tell, says the industry, but packages on offer are loading them with add-ons and freebies, exults Anoothi Vishal
Mumbai-based banker Amit Pandey had been looking forward to a family break in Thailand this December — till the financial tsunami put paid to all such plans. Faced with a severe cash crunch, like others of his ilk Pandey has decided to get into savings mode.
“Instead of Thailand, I’ll be vacationing in Goa where I’ll travel by car or bus,” he says. In Goa, the holiday will be structured around points accumulated on the loyalty card of a five-star hotel, something that was lying unused in his briefcase “because I hadn’t even bothered to look at it before”.
The card entitles him to a weekend stay in a suite, “and though I’ve heard that the party scene in Goa will be dull this year, what other choice is there?” he asks. The Pandeys plan to stay two additional days on a vacation budget that’s been shorn down to Rs 30,000.
Sensible? Well, of course. But, on the other hand, with or without such freebies, a whisper campaign about staggering discounts in the offing has perked up the interest of people like the Pandeys, who may find many more options coming their way as the hospitality industry goes into a slowdown.
The crisis in the American and European markets means that many traditional holiday destinations are looking at cancellations and non-arrivals by tourists from these countries. The silver lining in this for you is that not only are rooms still available at hotels and resorts at these destinations, but that they’re available at prices a notch — or even several notches — lower than typical high-season prices.
Yogesh Shah, CEO, Backpacker & Co, a Mumbai-based travel company that customises itineraries to suit all budgets and preferences, points out how there are some “amazing rates going for South-east Asia if you just Google for them”. Even in Europe, it’s possible to enjoy a great vacation at substantially lower prices.
Among the packages that Backpacker & Co is promoting this season is the Hogmany festival in Edinburgh, counted as amongst the most vibrant New Year celebrations in the world with live performances and street parties. “Typically, bed-and-breakfasts would not come for less than L90 at this time, but this year they’re going for just L60,” says Shah.
What’s more, you can now browbeat hotels into giving you better rates. Shah was able to do that for a boutique hotel in Amsterdam for a client. “They began by asking for E180 but finally came down to E105 a night + breakfast,” he says.
While announcements on New Year discounts are likely to follow closer to that date, there are several packages that have already been geared for the tourist drought. Malaysia is one country that has reacted very fast “keeping in mind the recent liquidity issues”, according to a Tourism Malaysia release.
On offer are luxury packages from Rs 47,000 onwards, but for three-nights, four-days, you can pick up a “Live it up @KL” package for only Rs 7,990, inclusive of accommodation in star-category hotels with breakfast and half-day sightseeing (but not airfare and visa charges). Cox & Kings has a five-nights, six-days “Romantic Philippines” package for Rs 20,500 + $640 that is inclusive of airfare between India and the Philippines as well as on domestic flights (excluding taxes) on Singapore Airlines.
But are these prices really bargain offers, lower than in the previous years? Yes and no. While heads of tourism boards contend that prices may be lower than last year, others point to how rates this season are a continuation of summer/lean-season rates. The tourism industry itself contends that the impact of the meltdown will only be felt later as the current winter, bookings (and payments) for which were made six-seven months ago, is still in “season” mode.
But the signs are everywhere. If it’s not cheaper prices, it’s value-additions too by way of extra nights (cleartrip-.com), entrance fees to places of interest, meal and entertainment vouchers (Tourism Malaysia) and even cash-back on bookings. Book a round trip flight on cleartrip.com to Hong Kong before 20 November and you get back 50 per cent cash on the base fare, or
Rs 6,000, whichever is less. The catch is that you need to stay in Hong Kong for at least 48 hours, and the offer is valid for only the first 150 customers. But late-comers have reason to cheer too — for every round trip they book, they can get Rs 4,000 worth of Indian Oil vouchers. Fuel for travel — now that’s something you’d never have imagined!
Says Amit Saberwal, vice president, makemytrip.com, “As compared to last year, there are far more bargain deals available if someone is looking to travel in the last week of December. The economic slowdown has had a considerable impact on the tourism business, but it won’t be as drastic as many are expecting it to be.” Saberwal adds that packages on offer for international destinations will be extremely low-priced compared to last year, since traffic from Europe and America would have decreased. So, “destinations like Maldives, Mauritus, Singapore, Malaysia will be welcoming Indians with open arms”.
What if you wanted to sample some domestic luxury instead? Vineet Kumar, regional sales manager with Hewlett Packard, says he is waiting for hotels to slash down rates towards the year-end. “That’s the reason I’ve kept my holiday plans on hold. Some months ago, I wouldn’t have waited as patiently, but I think it’s a good idea to grow up, get wiser as far as our money is concerned. The expenditure pattern for holidays won’t change too drastically but our generation will find itself getting prudent with its plans, including holidays,” he says.
If Kumar and his generation were to take a holiday this month, they’d find some good bargains. On the other hand, travel and hospitality professionals warn that rates may actually go up around Christmas because there is no stopping the domestic traveller. Or is there?
In Goa, charter traffic is down by 30-35 per cent. Popular tourist destinations like Kerala and Rajasthan have been hit with fewer foreign travellers coming in. In the ordinary course, this would suggest bargain prices. But a random call to the Marriott hotel in Goa got me a rate of Rs 40,000 on the night of December 31. Hardly what you’d call a bargain!
Why? Trade professionals suggest that premium and luxury hotels in India are still following a wait-and-watch policy. “We will only get to know the impact post-January,” points out Shah, as hotels hope to tide over this season. Ketaki Narain of The Oberoi group says the impact is much lower than what it is being made out to be.
“We are entering into what is conventionally the peak season for the industry. During this period traditionally the demand has outstripped the supply. No significant supply has been added to the market in the last year. Therefore, the impact is not in proportion to the slowdown,” she says in an e-mailed reply.
Regardless of what luxury hotels may be quoting, travel websites are offering cheaper deals. A Kerala package for three-nights, four days on makemytrip.com for Rs 19,555 per person includes accommodation in Kumarakom Lake Resort, breakfasts, transfers and taxes.
A seven-nights Rajasthan package is just Rs 16,999 per person, inclusive of all taxes and the services of a tour escort. And in Goa, at the five-star Majorda Beach Resort, a package for three nights costs Rs 25,000 around Christmas and includes all meals along with sightseeing and a Christmas Eve gala dinner for two.
At the boutique Soul Vacation in Goa, packages for five nights around Christmas-New Year start at Rs 33,000 for a deluxe room. As a corporate traveller, you might snatch even better bargains. In Jaipur, it is possible to get discounts starting at 20 per cent on rack rates at hotels.
Even on luxury experiences, there are some great offers. At Kaya Kalp, the award-winning spa at ITC Mughal in Agra, a two-nights, three-days package is Rs 21,000 with not just the stay but also spa treatments built in: a hand and nail care session for 45 minutes, a revitalising body treatment for 30 minutes, as well as the Kaya Kalp signature massage for 60 minutes.
Similarly, Jaypee Palace, Agra, is offering a competitive one night-two days package for Rs 5,999 and a spa package for Rs 16,999 for a couple, inclusive of therapies. The tony Westin Sohna Resort & Spa has some great New Year packages: Rs 11, 450 per person per night for a one night stay, and Rs 8,450 per night for three nights stay.
The prices include all meals, the New Year’s eve dinner and New Year’s Day brunch, tickets to the New Year ball with unlimited alcoholic and other beverages, fireworks, live music and all taxes.
You won’t get better than that. Or, again, say some, watch out for the discounts in January — for five-star holidays on two-star tariffs.
Inputs: Aabhas Sharma, Abhilasha Ojha
6 months ago