Holidayers skate in Shimla. Consumer appetite for holiday getaways is strong, said analysts. (Photo: PTI)

Omicron variant risk fails to deter holiday bookings

The spread of the virus comes as the industry is recovering from the severe impact of two waves of the pandemic since early 2020 that has forced several hotels and restaurants to shut down.

While hotel companies are still to report mass cancellations due to the new variant, live events and parties are already seeing some scaling back as restaurant chains fear new restrictions on large gatherings.

Companies say holiday bookings have remained strong so far despite the rapid spread of Omicron, coinciding with Christmas and year-end festivities.

Vipul Prakash, chief operating officer at MakeMyTrip, said leisure holiday bookings for Christmas and the year-end are on an upswing after a brief lull when news about Omicron first surfaced.

“People are back to actively planning and booking road trips to drivable destinations. Unexplored destinations such as Karjat, Mashobra, Pahalgam, Shimoga and Mukteshwar, among others, reported an uptick in bookings. Bookings for homestays, starting Christmas weekend till New Year’s, have also improved significantly over the past few days. What’s also interesting to note is that as people rush to tick-off their year-end travel plans, the advance booking window has become shorter with people booking closer to the date of travel,” he said.

Consumer appetite for holiday getaways is strong, said others, as families seek to avoid crowded celebrations in large cities. Pranav Maheswari, co-founder, Vista Rooms, a holiday homes and villa rental company, said the company has recently seen an uptick in booking requests after Section 144 was imposed within Mumbai until 31 December, which restricts mass gatherings.

This year, most Vista properties are fully booked till 5 January, a sharp improvement from last year when it reported 60% occupancy. “Since New Year’s Eve falls over a weekend, we see guests planning a two-day celebration rather than one night. We did not anticipate that bookings would be close to 100% in many of our properties this year. People want to celebrate in private villas that are within driving distance, and we expect to be completely sold out in a day or two,” Maheswari said. He said Vista Rooms had not incurred any loss in business due to Omicron.

Nazir Rah, managing director, Rah Hotels and Resorts, said all its rooms are sold out for Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Kashmir.

Meanwhile, dinner and lunch packages and gigs in restaurants may encounter interruptions in cities as states clamp down on large gatherings. As a result, restaurants and bar owners said, they have scaled back elaborate gatherings and are likely to follow covid-19 protocol.

On Saturday, musician A.P. Dhillon’s concert, scheduled at Delhi’s Aerocity area, was cancelled by the District Disaster Management Authority, citing violations of covid-19 norms.

Ajit Shah, a partner at White Panda Hospitality, which runs high-end restaurants such as Tera Vita, Kiko-Bā and Dadel in Delhi, said the chain is cutting back on elaborate plans involving live musicians and celebrity DJs on Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

While consumer sentiment has made a steady recovery since July, the last two to three weeks have discouraged many people from stepping out, he said. “We had a lot of bookings and enquiries for our Christmas and New Year events, but we are slowly witnessing cancellations as people are withholding from attending public events during this festive season,” Shah said.

The food services firm will follow a 50% seating capacity to avoid large gatherings. Unfortunately, this will hurt business, said Shah.

Ankit Mehrotra, CEO and co-founder at dining out and restaurant tech platform Dineout, said that while the mood is a “bit cautious”, demand for live events and festive season bookings is back to 2019 levels. Dineout also has a live-events vertical, which Mehrotra said did not cancel any of its 150 events in the last three months.

“December as a month is shaping up really well for us—this December will be thrice our pre-covid numbers,” Mehrotra said. He added that the company is getting a “great inventory” of restaurant and bar packages for Christmas and New Year’s Eve but added that the next one week could change a lot of things.

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