Bitten by the travel bug, Indians are travelling and in droves. Not just domestically but to foreign locales as well. Call it the aspiration of new India looking for new experiences - a theme that resonates strongly with the millennials and the Gen Z - or the validation of peers through social media posts.
This uptick in travel is, however, accompanied by another trend - impulsive or last-minute travel and not just alone but in groups. Despite the urge to travel unplanned, their expectations on certain unvarying features have to be fulfilled. This minimum aspiration threshold (MAT) includes hygienic rooms, breakfast, Wi-Fi, coffee maker, air conditioners and hair dryers, which were earlier considered premium but are now the expected basics.
Two enablers are at the heart of this elevated standard - proliferation of smartphones and the rise in India's per capita GDP. Smartphones enable people to access information about offbeat locations, review available accommodation, compare booking options and crowdsource best experiences all the while, possibly on their way to the airport. Historical data points to the fact that when a country's per capita GDP exceeds $1,500, there is a resultant surge in travel awakening (India's per capita GDP was $1,598 in 2015).
Impulsively planned trips are the main driver for both business and leisure travel with 61 per cent of all the bookings on the OYO platform made within 24 hours before check-in, according to a year-end analysis of 2016 hotel bookings by OYO.
Central to the impulse-planning trend, paradoxically, are the travellers' expectations regarding facilities, service and overall experience, which are non-negotiable and pre-determined, with Wi-Fi, breakfast and hygienic rooms emerging as the three biggest priorities, the analysis further revealed.
Standardised travel and holiday expectations have been further facilitated by the possibility to do a check-in via an app and access to Wi-Fi at railway stations and airports. Today's holiday planning has moved from pre-trip to in-trip, highlighting the impulse planning in which Indians know what their travel budgets must guarantee.
Indians are also increasingly taking self-driving vacations, thanks to the rise in road connectivity. According to the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, the country's road network was over 54.72 lakh km as on March 31, 2015, compared to 36.22 lakh km in 2003-04.
Impediments to last-minute self-driving travel such as non-availability of cash is no longer an issue. Tier II and III cities account for 50-65 per cent of the new ATMs, ensuring that those taking a road holiday will not run out of money.
Another big inhibitor used to be the non-availability of good accommodation, which is no longer a concern. Several branded budget chains are setting up hotels for various traveller budgets in smaller cities, promising guaranteed levels of amenities and comfort. These budget chains use automation and technology to offer a hassle-free and standardised experience to reduce service-related errors and unsatisfied guests. According to the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Associations of India, there are at least one million rooms available in all categories.
Due to Tatkal bookings (and a 50 per cent refund in the event of a cancellation), travellers opting for rail travel and constantly on the go may still obtain standard amenities. Passengers are now assured of clean linen which they can book online, mobile charging outlets at major stations and Wi-Fi connectivity at key railway junctions. The ready availability of these amenities has further triggered the impulse travel bug. Queries for this kind of standardised experience are growing by 179 per cent year on year compared to queries for standard budget hotels.
Setting a context to India's demand for basic standards and cleanliness is Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the government's initiative that has put messages at key tourist locations and public places, highlighting the need for cleanliness. India's tourism policy emphasises swachhta (cleanliness), security and connectivity.
Flash sales, as well as incentives for online and app booking, have given impulsive travel a major fillip for young Indians and families. With the assurance of affordable and good accommodation wherever they may choose to travel, "impulsively planned" travel is increasingly underlining all travel trends in the country and is here to stay.
Ritesh Agarwal is Founder and Chief Executive of OYO