The bags are almost packed, the wait is almost over. This Puja, it’s plane over train; west coast over the rest of India; southeast Asia over the rest of the world; adventure sport over lazy lounge…
After months of lull, travel agents are bracing for boom-time, as the city heads off here, there, everywhere. Well, not quite. The preferred destinations are quite clear. As far as country roads go, Goa is the place to be this Puja. On the world map, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong are places where you can’t whisper ‘Calcutta’ without catching the ear of a fellow-citizen this Ashtami.
The festive spirit is clearly in the ‘air’. Calcuttans plan their Puja holidays well in advance, and this year they have been suitably rewarded for this by travel companies and the airlines.
“Attractive package deals to southeast Asian destinations and half-price tickets on select national flights have both been lapped up. The rise in demand for flight tickets has been the feature this season,” says Lawrence Fonceca of Motijug Travels. A good-enough reason for travellers to take a flight for national destinations is the ‘apex’ fare offered by airlines. “For the price of an AC-II tier ticket, one can fly to some of the metros. From there, they can carry on by rail or road to a holiday spot,” says Indranil Sengupta of Thomas Cook.
Within country limits, the sun ‘n’ sand of Goa beats the cool climes of Kulu-Manali-Simla and the naturopathy resorts of Kerala. “A lot of people prefer to stick to familiar places with established infrastructure and so prefer visiting or even re-visiting popular destinations in India,” observes Prashant Binnany of Discovery Travels and Tours. “And there are no visa hassles.”
Beyond boundaries, the lure of southeast Asia is strongest this season. “Going to Goa is more expensive than a southeast Asian package,” says Indrajit Kundu of C&A Travel. Case in travel point: a Budget Tours package deal for three nights and four days to Bangkok pegged at Rs 12,999, inclusive of airfare and accommodation. “All our southeast Asia tours are fully booked, with long waiting lists. We are still haggling with airlines to give us more seats,” says Satish Ramnani of Vensimal.
Festival time on foreign shores has picked up with upcoming international destinations like Sri Lanka, with its visa-on-arrival scheme, and Dubai. Lawrence Fonceca of Motijug Travels adds: “The favourite among the newer holiday hotspots is definitely Australia.”
Adventure destinations, too, are catching on among the younger tourists, with watersports like snorkling, scuba diving, parasailing, paragliding, waterscootering and waterskiing at Penang and Kota Kina Balu in Malaysia and Phuket and Pattaya in Thailand, says Aloke Singh of Steps Travel Agency.