Work remotely from the Himalayas or picturesque beaches while enjoying a sabbatical
Aditya Kamat logged into work from a bench under the cover of trees, basking in misty sunshine. The IT professional shifted base from his home in Bengaluru to Pollibetta hills in Coorg, where he stayed at the Porcupine Castle Resort with a friend on a workcation.
India’s hill stations and beaches are slowly coming alive again as professionals, who have been working from home since the first lockdown in March, escape the monotony of being confined to their houses. “As one can be location neutral now, my work was not hampered. Trekking and bird-watching filled our leisure time. Being inside a coffee plantation, there was ample space for social distancing. It helps that Coorg is just a six-hour drive from Bengaluru,” says 24-year-old Aditya.
Prashant Shekhar Singh, a software engineer based in Noida, has been on a workcation for the last 20 days in Kasol, Himachal Pradesh, and plans to stay for another 10 days. Pune-based brand consultant Arjun Samaddar set off on a road trip to Kerala with his wife and four-year-old daughter soon after Karnataka opened its borders in September. At the time of writing, the trio has been on road for 24 days; they did stopovers at Gokarna, Coorg and a longer break at Cliff and Coral, Varkala in Kerala.
A workcation helps the city-weary traveller caught between work-from-home and work-at-home to blur the line between work and leisure.
It also helps the hospitality industry, which has been reeling under the economic impact of lockdown. “There is a trend of people opting for longer stays to either spend time with family and friends in other cities or to work remotely, which we are calling ‘Live Anywhere’,” says Amanpreet Bajaj, general manager, Airbnb India, Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
“Data suggests that over 20% of all searches on Airbnb within the last three-month period in India, have been for long-term stays. In fact, fashion designer Masaba Gupta also recently spent a month at an Airbnb villa in Goa working on her new collection. In the past three months, 45% of searches by travellers have been for unique accommodations such as tree houses, farm stays, lodges and campsites,” he adds.
So popular is the trend that Govind Gaur, co-founder of travel community WanderOn, has founded a new company and named it Workcations. “Now a person gets to work from destinations that were earlier bucket-listed for vacations,” says Govind, working from his home in Udaipur for his Gurgaon-headquartered company.
It is not just individuals. Families and corporates are also making the most of these curated packages. “In Goa, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and certain places in Karnataka and Maharashtra, individuals and families have rented houses for periods ranging from one week to two months,” adds Govind, who plans to begin workcations for teams in MNCs.
Travel services company Thomas Cook offers stays at picturesque destinations all over India; its packages range from rejuvenating Ayurveda packages in Kerala to a taste of royalty in Jaipur or wildlife safaris in Rathambore, Rajasthan and beachscapes in Mamallapuram.
“Given the pent up demand for travel and in the absence of a summer vacation this year, Indian consumers are seeking opportunities to avail themselves of quick breaks around the country, to destinations that are located at short, drivable distances. Key segments driving demand include millennials and working professionals, family and extended family; groups of friends, etc,” says Rajeev Kale, president & country head — Holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India).
Homestays, boutique hotels, resorts and hotel chains in hill stations, besides beachside and upmarket properties in metros, too, are rising to the occasion with curated packages that follow safety protocols, have excellent WiFi connection, and also offer memorable stay-and-work options.
Sterling, ITC and GRT Hotels and Resorts are some of the majors in the hospitality industry offering ‘workcations’ on their prime properties. “We noticed a spike in the number of weekend travellers. Accessibility and digital connectivity are the two main criteria. Guests prefer spacious rooms with access to open and green spaces,” says Vikram Lalvani, chief of sales, Revenue and Destinations, Sterling Holiday Resorts.
The green outdoors is the USP of Yercaud-based Shambala, for instance. “Situated inside a coffee plantation, cottages are spread out on the property and there is alfresco dining. All safety measures as mandated by the government are in place,” says proprietor Deepa Palaniappan.
While ITC Hotels and GRT Hotels and Resorts offer one-day packages, in addition to longer packages for customers on some of their prime properties in the Indian metros and other cities, Sterling and certain homestays insist on a certain number of days for those availing themselves of the workcation packages.
“We have ‘Staycation’, ‘Daycation’ and ‘Workcation’ packages for all hotels post lockdown relaxation. Included in the package are free meals, upgrades, stay for kids, sightseeing and so on,” explains Pooja Parameswaran, marketing manager, GRT Hotels and Resorts.
To assure customers of a safe travel environment, many leading hospitality chains and travel companies have tied up with healthcare providers to conceptualise safety protocols at different stages of a client’s journey.
With attractive pricing and discounts, the idea of a leisurely weekend or a day has been welcomed by individuals and families, says Rajagopala Iyer, CEO of Uday Suites in Thiruvananthapuram. However, rules and regulations regarding travel are fluid and keep changing from one State to another. Thus, it is necessary to have updated information on COVID-19 related travel regulations. Some of the players in travel and hospitality sectors have brought out advisories for those undertaking inter-State travel.
“However, if you plan on destinations within your State or within driving distance, it obviates the need for such planning,” points out Anila Paul, Director — Marketing, Porcupine Castle, Coorg, which has been offering workcations on and off since July in accordance with the government’s directions on easing of lockdown restrictions.
Veterans in the hospitality and travel industry feel that the pandemic’s impact will be felt in 2021 as well. As companies cut back on office space, thus saving money on rent, it is likely that even post-pandemic a percentage of people will continue to work-from-home. As Govind says, “Workcations are likely to be in demand in 2021 as well. The nature of the demand might be different but workcation is here to stay.”
(With inputs from Anusuya Menon)