Signing off for Diwali: The best holiday destinations for the season

As winter sets in and large parts of India battle smog, people are taking a short break in places that offer respite

Namrata Kohli | New Delhi

Diwali means families and friends visiting each other for parties, eating good food, and having a good time. They do that at home or at a staycation, a place for a short vacation away from home.

Cut to 2023 and a lot of people are preferring to do a festive staycation away from their residence. Call it the pollution break or Diwali vacation, there has been a spike in bookings especially of villas and homestays and hotels for extended periods.

For SaffronStays, a network of luxury villas and private vacation homes, Diwali has been a great month every year. Says Deven Parulekar, Founder, SaffronStays, “This year too we are growing close to 50% over last year’s Diwali and it’s a mix of value growth and volume growth. Prices are also 5-7% more than last year.”

Sample some of the data at SaffronStays. There has been a 35% increase in people opting to stay at serene homestays in North post 20th October 2023 pertaining to a severe AQI levels in Delhi. Around 42% increase in people opting to stay at serene vacation homestays in Mumbai check-ins was observed post 20th October 2023 due to the sudden deteriorating AQI in Mumbai. Most of the families prefer to move away from the city pollution to avoid health impacts especially on kids, senior citizens and pets. This is expected to further increase after Diwali.

According to Rajeev Kale – President & Country Head, Holidays, MICE, Visa – Thomas Cook (India) Limited, “We are witnessing a strong demand of over 50% from our NCR based customers this Diwali compared to last year and what is noteworthy is that this travel demand cuts across segments of families/multigenerational families, young professionals/millennials, couples and Gen Z. While travel during the Diwali season represents an interesting shift from the traditional practice of staying at home for the festive period, the current pollution levels appear to be accelerating travel desire. Our data highlights a significant shift in the Indian consumer behaviour – with their rapid transition from a saver to a spender mindset. This shift has a cascading impact on holidays, and we are seeing consumers willing to spend 20–30% more and take longer/multiple breaks.”

This Diwali season, short haul and easy visa destinations like Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Vietnam, Cambodia are in demand; with strong interest in island options like Mauritius, Maldives, Sri Lanka and continued travel to Japan and South Korea. For customers open to a longer break, South Africa, Australia, and Europe are also seeing uptick.

Popular domestic destinations include Kashmir, Himachal, Uttarakhand, Kerala, Rajasthan, Goa and Andamans; even Nepal, Bhutan in the Indian subcontinent. For luxury locations, hotel occupancy is still between 80-100%, and room rates are rising by an average of 25- 30%.

Diwali is a festival that represents new beginnings, and for many Indians, travelling to nearby destinations during this time is a way of celebrating life, family, and happiness, says Rakesh Bawa, Vice President & Head – National Sales, Holidays, B2C Sales, SOTC Travel- “Indian hill stations and relatively quaint destinations like Himachal, Uttarakhand, Kashmir, Udaipur, Sikkim, Kerala, Goa are seeing an almost 2x rise in bookings during the festive weekend. While there is a rising trend in booking villas over the previous years due to relatively longer stays; hotels remain top favorites as many of them offer special festive celebration activities included in the packages.”

In North India, particularly in Delhi-NCR, a significant portion of the population is eager to escape the severe air quality by heading to destinations like Himachal, Uttarakhand, or Rajasthan, where the air quality is better. In various other parts of India, people are increasingly inclined to embark on longer road trips, thanks to the improving quality of India’s highways and road networks. Here are the five travel trends experts are currently observing, especially during the festive season. Says Saurav Chakraborty, Founder and CEO, Travel Buddy, “Essential travel is expected to surge as individuals reunite with their families in their hometowns. Many people are seeking to avoid pollution and poor air quality by opting for getaways in regions with cleaner air. Both short and long-drivable destinations will become more popular choices for travelers. Group travel is on the rise, with travelers desiring to journey with like-minded communities. For example, Travel Buddy recently organized a successful trip to Mysore Dasara, attracting over 46 participants. A heightened emphasis on safety and hygiene during travel is evident. Connecting with locals before heading to a destination and inquiring about health protocols have become crucial practices for travelers.”

Offbeat Destinations

It’s the offbeat locations which are seeing a lot of demand, says Kajal Chanana, Founder Connecting India and travel influencer- “Delhi pollution is driving people away. With a thick layer of smog, people have been coughing unreasonably and now they are booking in advance an extended pollution break and prefer going to aloof destinations rather than Shimla, Nainital which are as overcrowded as the capital city. These offbeat destinations may not be that popular but are good to stay in and enjoy the weather like Kasauli over Chandigarh and even Mount Abu. There too they prefer smaller properties such as boutique hotels or villas which are not yet explored. Since holidays start a week before Diwali many in the corporate and IT sector opt for a 15 days’ vacation.”

During this Diwali season, Agoda has also observed an increase of tourists coming to India, with the highest number of visitors arriving from the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, Australia, and the Netherlands. Many are planning to move away to cleaner environs for a family vacation. According to Ashima Negi, a 35-year-old parent of a Class 5 student in South Delhi, “All Delhi Schools are closed due to air pollution. My son has holidays owing to pollution till November 10 as Delhi AQI has become ‘Severe Plus’ again. And after that are the regular Diwali holidays. My sister-in-law is coming with her family from the US and we are all going to Kerala with our extended family from the US to stay in a treehouse from Airbnb for 15 days. Last year we went to Kasauli to stay in a large villa.”

West and South India popular to celebrate Diwali. Digital travel platform Agoda has found a preference amongst Indians to head West and South to celebrate Diwali this year with Goa, Ooty, Pondicherry, Mumbai and Bangalore emerging as the top five destinations to revel in the festivities. These locations have replaced the previous year’s Northern hotspots – New Delhi and NCR, Jaipur, and Udaipur. Agoda insights also reveal a 13% increase in searches for travel around Diwali compared to 2022.

Some are opting for overseas destinations like Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia which are reasonably priced. Krishna Rathi, Country Director India, Sri Lanka, and Maldives at Agoda: “The long weekend means more people are taking advantage to travel with family and friends to enjoy the festivities together. When it comes to international preferences, the five most popular international destinations are Bangkok, Dubai, Singapore, Pattaya, and Kuala Lumpur respectively. The Southeast Asian destinations offer rich cultural experiences, culinary adventures, and a mix of landscapes, while Dubai entices with its vibrant nightlife, luxurious lifestyle, and modern marvels.”

Why Villas Over Hotels

For longer stays the guests prefer to stay in a villa over hotels. Vacation homestays set in tranquil locations away from the hush-hush of city life are a breath of fresh air for both mind and body. With many organizations allowing WFH and most of these villas now fully equipped with strong Wi-Fi, this becomes super easy! So work till dusk and then jump into the pool! Villas in Karjat, Alibaug, Dehradun, Nainital, Udaipur, Shimla-Kasauli, Mulshi-Pawna seeing the most traction.

What is the cost of staying in a villa? According to data from SaffronStays, considering the dates as 10th-15th November the cost of 5 nights at some of the top-rated villas ranges from 1.5 to 4 lakhs. For instance, Le Farm at Kamshet would cost Rs 338,631 while Karjat’s Sanvina Farm would be Rs 301,458. The price at Satori Woodhouse villa at Mulshi is 1,47,500 and Alibaug’s Gardenia is Rs 430,664. The Doon Mansion at Uttarakhand is available at Rs 311,496 while Udaipur’s The Eyrie at Rs 442,452. – Udaipur.

These homes are often better equipped for long-term stays compared to hotels. They might come with laundry facilities, storage space, and other essentials for extended visits. According to Airbnb Super host, Nalin Jha who has 17 units that he personally manages in Delhi and Goa, Airbnb accommodations often differ significantly from traditional hotel offerings. While hotels generally offer a standardized experience, the likes of Airbnb can provide unique services and amenities based on their individual characteristics and the preferences of the hosts. Says Jha- “The first advantage is the presence of a kitchen. The majority of listings invariably offer a kitchen, providing significant convenience for guests who wish to cook. This becomes particularly pertinent for those booking extended stays. From my observations, guests staying longer than a week often prefer to prepare their own meals, even if they’re simple dishes. The ability to cook not only reduces dining expenses but also caters to the desire for comforting, homemade food. They provide home comforts. Airbnb often feel more like a home than a hotel room. This can include comfortable living spaces, gardens, BBQ facilities, and other home-like amenities which depend on listing to listing.”

Vacation rental homes have unique properties -from treehouses and castles to boats and yurts. Plus there is flexibility as compared to hotels for example: Check in /Check out time, Handling of any issues and compensation or refund due to that. Hotels are more rigid.


What is the cost of holiday packages this festive season? The price chart by Thomas Cook (India) Limited & SOTC gives an idea of what one must budget for, before booking travel

Holiday Destination Ballpark Cost Per person on twin share basis (Stay, Transport, Breakfast)
Goa 12,000
Kerala 20,000
Udaipur 22,000
Kasauli 20,000
Sri Lanka 29,000

Credits: Thomas Cook (India) Limited & SOTC

The above cost is the ballpark cost per person on twin share basis and includes Stay, Transport, Breakfast

Source: Business Standard

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