The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Puja streets and Pattaya sands

War — and SARS — hit travel industry is bouncing back as holidaymakers begin to venture out into the world once again. And there are tantalising offers to tempt travellers. Air fares or hotel costs, rates slash is the flavour of the season on the Maidan, where a lot of holiday hunters are headed. “We have 150 participants in the fair and are expecting around 40,000 visitors,” says Sanjiv Agarwal, chairman and managing director, Fairfest Media Ltd, organisers of the Travel and Tourism Fair, from August 14 to 17.

Budget Tours, the conglomerate of five Calcutta-based travel companies started up last year, says it has bounced back from the summer slump, and is ready for the Puja rush. “Southeast Asia remains the hot favourite, particularly since people were forced to stay away during the summer holidays,” says Prashant Binnany of Budget. “Bangkok-Pattaya was the preferred choice last Puja. We are also offering a Bangkok-Kuala Lumpur package based on customer demand. Another new destination is Brunei.”

Other popular package destinations include Singapore, Nepal, Dubai and Australia, ranging in prices from Rs 12,999 to Rs 69,999. Cruises, too, are chock-a-block. And the company is aiming big, with expectations of growth by 40 per cent this year. “The prospects are good, things are looking up and, judging by the initial response, we are confident of a good Puja,” says Manoj Saraf.

Be it a four-days-three-nights trip to Malayasia at Rs 19,000, or a five-day trip to Singapore and Bali at around Rs 24,000, government agencies, airlines, private tour operators and the hospitality industry have all descended to lure the Calcutta traveller during the four-day Maidan fair.

The Taj group of hotels, too, has jumped on the package-tours bandwagon. The newest offer is the Miracles package for over 55’s. There are spa holidays in Goa and Kerala and the luxury palace hotels of Rajasthan. Further afield, there’s Maldives, Kathmandu — “very popular amongst Calcuttans” — Sri Lanka and Dubai. Closer home, try Varanasi or Vizag.

Boating, yoga, ayurvedic massage, fishing… The choices are aplenty and everything, from transport to meals, are arranged. The Durga Puja package for Rs 2,999, right here in Calcutta, takes care of shopping to pandal-hopping, “hassle-free”.

The state tourism departments are not far behind. “One of the most interesting features this year is the significant presence of government agencies,” says Agarwal. Rajasthan, Karnataka and Jammu & Kashmir have joined the fair as partner states. And most are offering discount packages. The organisers are also planning to float the concept of a regional approach, with the Bengal government being approached to take the lead in promoting eastern India.

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