Caravan Tourism Chugs Out of Pandemic Halt

 

Even as the travel and tourism industry is trying hard to wriggle itself out of the Pandemic rut, Caravans are on rolling wheels to chart new path, writes Prasenjit Chakraborty.

While the ongoing pandemic has brought in many changes in the travel and tourism industry it has at the same time provided momentum to the few segments that remained stagnant for years. One such segment which is registering growth in India is Caravan Tourism. It goes without saying that travelling in a caravan is a pretty safe experience as one is always in charge of their sanitisation. Besides one doesn’t have to rely on outside food as the van is equipped with a kitchenette. And club it with the prospect of waking up to the sounds of nature and enjoying panoramic views throughout the journey everyday. It’s just a perfect fodder for vacation.

No wonder,the demand for camper vans has gone up significantly in the last few months.”There has been a surge in enquiries for Caravan tourism and most of the queries are from guests who have experienced this overseas like Newzealand or USA. This is definitely because of the Pandemic whereby people want to travel in their own bubble. They could travel from Point A to B and back home without rubbing shoulders with any one,” points out Manish Kriplani,MD, Baywatch Travels Pvt Ltd. People have realised that this is a safe travel option in the current situation, and is being used regularly for travel by senior citizens or people with children. Neha Soman, director, Wacation On Wheels Pvt Ltd, which offers Caravans for hire in different cities, says that they provide sanitised caravans at their customers’ doorsteps. “Even our driver compartments are separate, and we can get them tested before your trip. So one need not to be worried at all. Besides this, the toilet and kitchen are travelling with you, so there is no need to get down to use public toilets or visit restaurants etc.,” said Soman. Rashmi Joshi, Sr. Manager, Marketing & Communications, 2HUB, believes that Caravans has found its way to the bucket list among young travellers in a short span of time mainly due to social media. “ No doubt, the pandemic has left people looking for more private and safe travel options and a caravan offers them exactly the same. A private yet an experiential vacation,” opines Joshi.

The demand now is mostly for smaller caravans, which can accommodate sleeping arrangements for 4 to 6 people, as most of the travel plan is designed for individual families or small groups. “Before the pandemic, it was mostly about travel in groups or 2-3 families together, which required caravans which could accommodate sleeping arrangements for 8-10 people,” says Soman. The duration of journey is also short as of now in India when compared with that of the western world. And travellers in Caravans mostly prefer to explore places not far from their homes. “The duration of journey is 2 – 3 nights as it’s a new product, people are experimenting with this and once they get used to it , it will increase to 7 – 10 days which is the world average,” says Kriplani. Echoing similar sentiment, Soman said, that maximum bookings are for 2-4 day trips. Rajasthan, Himachal, and Leh are the destinations for which they get the most inquiries. “However, there are a lot of short distance bookings too, like Nashik-Bhadardara from Mumbai and Pune, or even the Konkan coast,” she said. Wacation On Wheels, since its inception in 2016, catered to every type of customer right from youngsters on adventure road trips, to families on holiday. The company offers caravans from multiple locations, like Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Bhopal, Indore, Jaipur, Delhi, Bangalore etc. and is also in the process to add more locations in the near future. For Baywatch, its focus is on the luxury segment only. “We are currently offering the chauffeur-driven vehicle as our focus is luxury experiences. However, we are in talks with a few manufacturers for a self-drive smaller protype,” reveals Kriplani.

Since Caravan tourism is now at a very early stage in India, and not many people have experienced it, what a first time traveller should look at while booking? Says Archit Batra, Founder, Raasta India, “Someone who is looking to rent a Caravan for the first time should primarily decide whether they are looking for an adventurous camping experience or a luxury one One should also factor in the fuel and road tolls that apply on the chosen routes.” Raasta regularly partners with various campsites, hostels and hotels to adapt to each traveller’s requirements.

The Caravan tourism segment in India is perceived as for rich people only, is it true? Soman doesn’t agree with this and promptly says, “it is not correct.” And justifies by saying that they offer travel packages starting from INR 3,000 per head per day. “This is a little more than what you would spend travelling in your own car and staying in a hotel. But, you also get an unforgettable experience of caravan travel in India,” she points out. However, Joshi feels that Caravans are expensive when compared with hotel stays. “This is one of the issues in caravan tourism in India,” she points out.

The Challenges

There are many operational stumbling blocks here. For example, different states have different rules and rates for their road taxes and other compliances. This creates a problem for travellers as well as caravan providers. Even RTO officials are confused in which category such vehicles fall- heavy or light weight? “Many people compare Caravans with Vanity vehicles which are being used by celebrities during shootings. We are in talk with RTO officials to dispel the doubts. Apart from this, absence of an association (for Campervan Tourism) also makes our task difficult,” laments Kriplani.

Another teething problem is the lack or virtual absence of Camping Sites in India. As a result, caravan providers have to tie up with private players for parking their vehicles which, according to experts, are not good for the safety of travellers. “Camping infrastructure is non-existent in India. We have tied up with private property owners at various tourist locations to ensure safe parking for our caravans. We also park regularly at parking lots of hotels or restaurants along the highways, with their permission, and we have never been turned away by anyone,” says Soman. Due to lack of camp sites, Baywatch is currently discussing with a few resorts in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu so that these resorts offer space to park their vehicles during night. “We are doing this as the safety of our guests is of prime importance to us,” says Kriplani.

It is time the government come up with a uniform policy on road tax and some clarity on the subject especially when vehicles cross inter-state borders. Besides this, there have to be government approved and managed camp sites in scenic routes where travellers can park their vehicles and sleep in peace overnight without any safety concern. Also, these sites should have facilities like electricity charging, cleaning, convenience stores etc.

If the ongoing activities are any indication, then the sector is all set to make rapid strides in near future with a lot more caravan operators and even individual travellers would start thinking about owning caravans.

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