Coronavirus pandemic

'Workation' an emerging trend among Indians unable to holiday abroad

A homestay in Toli, near Almora in India's Uttarakhand. A survey in May by Thomas Cook and SOTC Travel found that 64 per cent of respondents "are likely" to take a domestic holiday this year.
A homestay in Toli, near Almora in India's Uttarakhand. A survey in May by Thomas Cook and SOTC Travel found that 64 per cent of respondents "are likely" to take a domestic holiday this year.PHOTO: HOMESTAYS OF INDIA

As a resident of the humid coastal Indian city of Chennai, Mr Angshuman De always enjoyed being in cooler climes and would escape whenever possible to the Himalayas for high-altitude treks.

And it is these mountains that the financial services professional has turned to yet again to break the monotony of working from his apartment since March 25, when India went into a lockdown.

"It has been mentally exhausting being restricted to my apartment for more than three months now," Mr De, 44, told The Straits Times. "There has been no change."

With no clarity on when physical workspaces will reopen, he has now decided to move to a homestay in Naddi in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh for the next few months. Getting there will require two flights as well as a short drive from Dharamshala, the nearest airport.

"I am location agnostic and can work from anywhere as long as there is a good broadband connection. So why should I be restricted to Chennai?" he pointed out.

It is people like Mr De, filled with irrepressible wanderlust and able to work remotely, that the Indian travel and hospitality industry is now banking on for recovery.

Such businesses were forced to shut in March, incurring billions of rupees in losses, and have reopened cautiously only last month following an easing of restrictions.

To lure back travellers, they have launched special "staycation" and "workation" packages at attractive prices, combined with Covid-19 safety measures.

A survey in May by Thomas Cook and SOTC Travel found that 64 per cent of respondents "are likely" to take a domestic holiday this year. Both firms launched packages recently targeting domestic travellers looking for short or longer breaks.

While passenger trains are still not operational, domestic flights have resumed and offer another option for those looking to travel, in addition to driving.

Mr Daniel D'souza, president and country head, leisure, at SOTC Travel, said there is a pent-up travel demand because of the restrictions people were faced with during the countrywide lockdown that lasted for more than two months.

 
 
 

"People want to get out, at least drive somewhere for a holiday," he told ST, adding that his firm has seen an uptick in travel to destinations that are a drive away.

These places include Lonavla near Mumbai and Jaipur, which is around 280km away from Delhi.

Homestays Of India (HOI), a travel enterprise that lists around 160 homestay options across the country on its portal, has been receiving around 20 queries each week - all for long stays of around a month or two from people looking to combine a vacation with work.

"For us, it is a new thing," said Mr Vinod Verma, director of HOI, which launched its "Work From Homestay" option last month.

But before travellers head for their favourite holiday spots, they will have to negotiate a complex set of rules that remain fluid, as the pandemic unfolds with varying intensity across the country.

For instance, to get to his homestay in Himachal Pradesh, Mr De will first have to produce a Covid-19-negative report from a government-recognised laboratory that dates no more than 72 hours before his arrival, register on a state government portal 48 hours before arrival, and show proof of having booked an accommodation for at least five days.

As he is travelling from Chennai, which is a hot spot, he may have to undergo another test and be quarantined for 14-28 days if required.

But despite these official measures allowing the resumption of domestic tourism, locals in certain areas have prevented the opening of establishments for fear of outsiders bringing in infection.

Coorg, a popular hilly retreat in Karnataka, saw some tourists last month as establishments desperate for some business there reopened.

But opposition from locals as well as sparse footfall of around 2 per cent of regular traffic led to their closure after about a fortnight.

The district administration also followed this up with an order on July 7, asking owners of all hotels and homestays to stop accepting new bookings and cancel those made in advance till further notice.

India has more than 935,000 Covid-19 cases and over 24,300 deaths, and a peak is still said to be months away.

"We frankly are not expecting business to come to normal before 2021," said Mr Verma.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2020, with the headline ''Workation' an emerging trend among Indians unable to holiday abroad'. Subscribe