The recent violence in Manipur may have cast a temporary shadow over the region, but it doesn’t undermine northeast India’s rise as a popular destination for tourists. While government figures show a record-breaking tourist footfall of 100,000 foreign guests and over 11.8 million domestic visitors in the past one year, travel firms, too, are witnessing a surge in demand.
“Travellers are keen to escape the summer sun, and hill stations and cooler climes make for an ideal getaway. The northeast and hill stations of north Bengal are attracting more Indians owing to cooler and pleasant temperatures, dense forests, ancient monasteries, snow-capped mountains, pristine valleys, glistening lakes and cascading waterfalls,” said Daniel D’souza, president & country head, leisure, SOTC Travel, adding that the travel & tourism firm has been witnessing a surge of about 30% in demand compared to pre-pandemic times.
Also read: Travel to India’s first astro-village: The road to stars goes via UttarakhandThomas Cook (India), too, has witnessed 21% growth compared to last year and 30% vis-a-vis pre-pandemic levels.
“Indians are choosing locales to escape the summer heat and the current period (March to June) is considered to be the best time to visit the northeast and Darjeeling,” said Rajeev Kale, president and country head, holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India).
Yatra.com is also seeing an increase in bookings towards northeast in the range of 20-25% compared to pre-Covid levels. “Darjeeling and Gangtok are the most popular tourist places due to their scenic beauty, rich cultural heritage and pleasant weather. Apart from offering various tourist sites, both regions (northeast and Dooars) are a combination of natural beauty and rich cultural heritage,” said Sabina Chopra, COO, corporate travel and head industry relations, Yatra.com.
As per the ‘2023 Travel Predictions’ by online travel firm Booking.com, 65% of Indian travellers are looking for off-grid vacations. Santosh Kumar, country manager, Indian sub-continent & Indonesia, Booking.com, said one of the top-searched destinations this summer include Darjeeling.
The government’s efforts to promote tourism in the region are also bearing fruit. Recent initiatives like Bharat Gaurav (the deluxe tourist train undertook a 15-day tour to the northeast covering Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Tripura and Meghalaya in March) and Ganga Vilas (the world’s longest motor vessel river cruise, from Varanasi to Dibrugarh in Assam via Bangladesh) are encouraging more travel to the northeast. “The Vande Bharat train from Kolkata to New Jalpaiguri makes it easier for travellers to visit this part of the region,” added Kumar of Booking.com.
Industry observers said India’s G20 presidency is offering a valuable opportunity by putting the northeast’s MICE capabilities into the spotlight like never before. G20 events have been held in Guwahati, Imphal, Aizawl and Siliguri so far.
The region, known for its diversity in cuisine, is also increasingly becoming a foodie heaven. Up to 75% of the thought leaders, including celebrity chefs, home chefs, professional chefs, food bloggers, health professionals, etc, who came together to take out the latest edition of Godrej Foods Trends Report 2023, believe that the northeastern states are where people will flock most to discover food experiences, followed by Goa (73%), Tamil Nadu (60%) and Uttarakhand (58%).
Realising the growing importance of the region, fast-food behemoth McDonald’s recently opened its first restaurant in the region, which is also its largest in north and east India. “The northeast is an important market for us and we are committed to growing our footprint in the region. Our recently-opened restaurant in Guwahati is our biggest, spread over 6,700 sq ft with a seating capacity of 220. We are well positioned to progress the brand in the region,” said Rajeev Ranjan, MD, McDonald’s India – north and east.
At Yatra.com, tourists are mostly opting for packages that are for a duration of 5N/6D. “The majority of tourists visit Darjeeling for toy trains, Mirik lake, Batasia loop. Gangtok is widely famous for Nathu La and Tsomgo lake,” added Chopra.
Also read: Significant percentage of Indians fall victim to online travel scams: Report
D’souza of SOTC Travel said this is the most ideal time for exploring the tribes, trails and teas of the region. “Travellers are showing interest in Guwahati (Assam) and Shillong (Meghalaya) due to easier connectivity and availability of hotels. Other popular locales in demand include Kaziranga National Park, Tsomgo Lake, Yumthang Valley, Tawang Monastery, Nathu La Pass, Ziro Valley, Gurudongmar Lake, Teesta River, Loktak Lake, Majuli Islands, Gorichen Peak and Sela Pass in the northeast; and Tiger Hill, Batasia Loop, Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park, Peace Pagoda and more in Darjeeling. New emerging locales include Cherrapunjee/Sohra and Umiam lake (both in Meghalaya),” he added.
Meanwhile, OYO’s Summer Vacation Index 2023, which was released on Friday, showed a strong inclination of the people towards exploring offbeat and lesser-known destinations. Mawlynnong in Meghalaya and Ziro Valley in Arunachal Pradesh stood out as the top offbeat choices with 27% and 23% of the votes, respectively, in the survey. “These unique and lesser-explored locations have piqued the interest of travellers seeking new and extraordinary experiences,” the survey noted.