The Dasguptas of New Alipore are compulsive travellers. For them, the summer of 2003 was to have been a Hong Kong-Singapore special. Not any more. Images of men, women and children in masks has prompted a drastic geographical juggle in tour plans and the family is now looking far closer home (Lava-Lolegaon), instead.
With a silent ‘killer’ stalking Southeast Asia and the bombs over Baghdad jeopardising travel to West Asia and beyond, its suddenly destination India this summer holiday. Enough to prompt ‘strictly foreign’ travel agencies to go local. “We can’t afford to wait and watch any more. The summer holiday season has begun and we have decided to start a domestic bookings department offering tours to popular places. This is, in part, to make up for our losses in international bookings,” says Subhro Mukherjee of SOTC.
Traditionally, family holidaymakers from Calcutta start heading out in end-April and early-May, after the exam season. Although there is still time, most travel agents and tour operators believe the damage has been done.
“There are two reasons for this — the war and the virus,” sums up Prashant Binnany, director of Discovery Hotels. “Most travellers will surely avoid taking any chances.”
So, if the summer of 2002 found the UK, France, Germany, Scandinavia, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Indonesia among the travel pop picks for Calcuttans, this summer finds Kodaikanal, Goa, Kerala, Kathmandu, Kulu-Manali and Darjeeling topping the tour charts. At Cox & Kings, it’s national all the way. Soumitra Ghosh explains that domestic travel has seen a 15-20 per cent boost this year. “Most of our international holidays have been cancelled, in Europe, the US and the Far East. Some have, instead, booked domestic holiday packages all over the country, from Kerala to Kulu-Manali,” says Ghosh.
Thomas Cook has increased its number of domestic holiday packages this summer. “Usually, the domestic sector is secondary, but this time, we have a variety of Indian holiday tours because people are looking for an alternative,” confirms Stanley Rosario.
Adding to the ‘be Indian, see India’ mood are the airlines, with rock-bottom fares (case in point: a fortnight’s forward planning can land an Indian Airlines one-way ticket to Mumbai for Rs 4,265, instead of Rs 8,555).
So, Calcuttans look set to trade the sunshine of Phuket for the beaches of Goa, and the Alps for the Himalayan hinterland.