The Financial Express

By Manish Rathi,
We can now comfortably say that COVID is slowly turning into oblivion and travel in India has returned to normal, Indians across the country are seen to resume both leisure and functional travel. With the mobility industry reporting that the festive season is seeing a significant surge in travel, especially within India, it is displaying the indomitable Indian spirit in its full splendor. Festive season travel for Indians is far from new, however, this time round, guided by a younger, uber-connected generation of Indians, festive travel has new sensibilities and expectations. From often unpredictable and uncomfortable travel experiences of the past that were filled with uncertainties, today’s millennial traveler seeks a safer, more reliable, connected and smoother experience. And the travel industry, rather acutely impacted by a devastating pandemic, is rising to meet that demand. Energized by the travel boom, the industry is all set to welcome travelers, in true celebratory spirit this festive season.
Industry optimism is supported by data that shows an increase in intercity travel demand by 180-200% from last year. With travel restrictions completely out of the way and people having more flexibility at work, the Indian traveler is more ready than ever to explore places domestically through “work from anywhere” options. Coupled with this, a segment of travelers going back to their native place or planning spiritual travel adds to the travel reverberation.
Change in the needs of a traveler
After nearly two years of staying indoors, people were craving, more than ever, to pack their bags and explore the outdoors. Yet, with the economy still making a recovery, budget-friendly travel options within the country seem to be the majority choice. Well-explored discerning travelers are looking for experiential travel and just wanting to make the most out of the holiday, further combining the benefits of the hybrid work model.

Also Read | Festive season to witness tourism boom: Where are Indians going and what’s fueling travel engine?

Along with this, the real change in traveler needs is seen in their expectations of cost-effective, cleaner and smarter modes of transportation. They seek vehicles that follow predetermined schedules and routes and provide updates in case of unexpected delays, allow them to stay connected to wi-fi networks while en-route so they can work through their travel or stay in touch with their friends or families, and those that take care of basic hygiene and safety of travelers. While domestic tourists are seen to be drawn towards less explored places, the non-leisure routes continue to be between metros and two or three-tier cities where people are often returning to celebrate festivals with their families back home.
With the rise in ticket price, today’s high-demand experiential travelers can also look for branded and organized SmartBus that offers a range of amenities and facilities with SAFE+ protection. Unlike the older days, bus travel is also increasing mainly due to the comfort and safety that is taken under consideration by branded intercity bus travelers.
Roads to the Rescue
With the uptick in travel aspirations, air transport is getting expensive, trains are overbooked, hence people are opting for road trips for intercity travel. Given limited trains and train seats with requirements for pre-booking, well in advance, bus travel has emerged as the most viable option for many. With improved road connectivity between big and small cities, travelers are opening up to the idea of taking longer trips during the festive break.
Rising to the occasion, some progressively thinking private operators have entered this space and are reshaping traditional bus travel completely. The new-age inter-city branded bus incorporates entire tech-enabled ecosystems unto themselves, offering an end-to-end connected travel experience to the passengers. Integrating AI and machine learning, live-tracking of vehicles, the buses teach themselves to understand and respond to customer expectations on the go. Along with ensuring safety, affordability, comfort and reduction in travel time—these new buses keep improving to add bespoke and targeted experiences to returning travelers. These smart buses include services like wifi, sleeper cabins on board, clean toilets, and furnished lounges. These amenities have made road trips hassle-free and safe for solo as well as family travelers.
Many of these buses are operational on most of the popular routes like Delhi-Amritsar-Delhi or Mumbai-Ahmedabad-Mumbai while now diversifying into pilgrim routes in Northern and Southern India during the festive season.
Future Outlook
Given the flexibility of today’s workplaces, India’s Gen Z is more mobile. That coupled with uninterrupted internet access, reliable modes of transport and similarly equipped hotels and B&Bs, it is not surprising that intercity travel is going back to pre-pandemic levels, reaching its peak during festive times. What is also significant is the trend towards both solo and family travel during these times. As hybrid work cultures and remote working become the norm, this trend can only be expected to grow with people combining business and leisure into ‘Bleisure’ travels more and more. What is more, a laid-back traveler need not be worried about missing out on the early bookings as the new emerging transporters and hoteliers bolster infrastructure to offer a variety of travel options.
(The author is CEO & Co-founder, IntrCity. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)
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