Mumbai: The Mumbai terror attacks, that have India’s tourism industry reeling under their impact, have had an unforeseen fallout – increased bookings at rural and argi-farm destinations.
Even as locations in Goa and Kerala, already hurting from the economic slowdown, have seen a further slump in business following the Mumbai incidents, as tourists avoid popular vacation spots and expensive hotels and resorts, rural tourism and agri-farm operators near Mumbai and Delhi are reporting brisk business for the holiday season.
Tour operators in Maharashtra and Haryana say a sense of insecurity about crowded vacation spots and an extended economic slowdown has actually increased traffic for rural and agri-tourism.
“While we (usually) have to wait till a day before Christmas to start getting bookings for the season extending till the first week of January, this year our bookings were full in the first 10 days of December,” said Shekhar Karpe, who operates Karpewadi farm, a 2.5 acre beach side property of coconut and spice plantations in Nagaon, Alibaug, off the Mumbai coast.
“What is even more surprising is the mix of the people wanting to come here this time. Youngsters who typically want loud music and parties, have booked our place despite the fact that we have a strict policy on early lights out, no loud music, etc,” he said.
Karpe is one of a growing group of agri-tourism farm operators in Maharashtra—agri-farms in the state have increased from 50 last year to 74—who are reporting increased business this season as tourists restrict spending.
At Baramati district near Pune in Maharashtra, which has three agri-tourism ventures that can provide accommodation to 114 people per day, all the rooms are booked till 5 January.
Typically, rural and agri-farm operators charge between Rs700 and Rs1,000 per person per night including sightseeing and meals, far cheaper than stays at resorts and hotels in more popular tourist destinations that offer similar packages and facilities.
“Last year, my week-long vacation at Aurangabad cost me Rs50,000 just for hotel stay. With things slowing down in the industry and insecurity in the air about personal finances, we cut down our vacation to two days this year,” said R. Babu, a retail professional who will vacation with his four-year-old son at Karpewadi, which charges Rs750 per person a night. “It will be a great de-stressor after the events in Mumbai over the last few weeks which were very traumatic.”
Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, an advertising professional who is headed for an agri-farm near Mumbai with a group of friends in the first week of January, said: “I would rather be by myself at the farm and relax on its private beach than be a small part of a large crowd at a Mumbai party.”
“People who are calling up to enquire are also speaking of feeling more secure away from the usual tourist destinations, now that the Mumbai attacks are fresh on their minds,” said Pandurang Taware, president of the newly formed Maharashtra State Agriculture and Rural Tourism Federation.
Similar sentiments are echoed in Haryana, a state that borders the national capital—the target of several terror attacks in the past.
“A combination of the insecurity from the terrorist attacks and the recession has resulted in improved growth for our rural tourism projects,” said Haryana tourism secretary Keshmi Anand Arora.
“There are almost no foreigners coming in but domestic tourist traffic into my farm has gone up by at least 20% this season,” said Deven Srivastav, director of the Surjivan Resort in Haryana, 28km from the Delhi airport.
The Surjivan farm recently hosted 150 employees and families of Material Science Pvt. Ltd, a unit of German pharma firm Bayer AG’s India operations. Bayer CropScience Ltd’s country head Stephan Gerlich flew in for a couple of hours from Mumbai to address the gathering.
“For us, the safety and security of our employees is the most important factor…being away from the city and its hotels is not just a change from the usual but (it) also gives a feeling of much more security,” said Vijay Bajpai, manager, industrial relations and corporate services, Bayer CropScience.
Surjivan Resort’s recent corporate guests include companies such as GE Capital Services, Honda Motorcycle and Scooters India Pvt. Ltd and Pfizer Ltd for conferences and team-building events, Srivastav said.