India's pilgrim trail: a godsend for hotel chains

India's pilgrimage centres are fast becoming hot-spots for hotel chains, as both domestic and international groups look to plug a gap in the market for quality accommodation.

Devotees flocking to so-called "temple towns" such as Shirdi in western Maharashtra state, the Sikh holy city of Amritsar in Punjab and far-flung Haridwar have for years had to make do with basic facilities.

But a rise in disposable incomes and more Indians experiencing foreign travel - both the result of India's buoyant economy - have led to demand for more than just a bunk-bed in a community centre or floor space at a guesthouse.

"There was a time when people who were visiting these temple towns didn't have the money for quality accommodation," the associate vice-president of Best Western India, Gaurav Sarin, told AFP.

"That's changed very drastically in the past few years. The people who are now visiting are people looking for an international hospitality experience and they have the disposable income to spend on the room and other facilities."

For Best Western, temple towns and "Tier-II" cities - India's fastest-growing cities outside Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata and Bangalore - have become a key market and religious tourists core clients, he added.

It's not hard to see why: religious pilgrimages remain an essential part of life for millions in India, from the lowest-paid manual worker to the high-flying corporate executive, cricketer or Bollywood movie star.

The latest available government figures show there were just over 650 million domestic tourist visits in 2009 - up 15.5 percent on a year earlier. The number of foreign visitors fell 3.3 percent to 5.1 million.

"The bulk of (domestic tourists) are religious tourists wanting to visit places like Shirdi near Mumbai, Vaishnodevi in the north, Haridwar and Rishikesh in the Himalayas," said Ankur Bhatia, executive director of the Bird Group, a travel and hospitality conglomerate.

"The sector is growing tremendously. We're looking at about 10 percent growth every year. It's from the lowest to the highest economic groups in society."

Demand for rooms outstrips supply in places like Tirupati, a temple city in southern Andhra Pradesh state which reportedly receives a staggering 50,000 to 70,000 visitors every day.

Chains see high returns, even at lower room rates and without additional revenue from hotel bars and restaurants on the pilgrim trail, where being teetotal and not eating meat are prerequisites.

"The international travel market in India is quite seasonal and fickle," said Kaushik Vardharajan, managing director of hotel sector analysts HVS Hospitality Services.

"A couple of travel advisories can see numbers drop steeply. We saw it during the downturn and after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai (in November 2008).

"The demand for these temple cities and heritage sites are pretty recession-proof. They're not seasonal in nature and if it's bad times, people are going to go to the temple more."

Vardharajan said that there are currently plans to build 90,000 to 95,000 new rooms in such places in the next five years.

Best Western, which has hotels in Amritsar and Shirdi, is looking to build in Ajmer in the northern state of Rajasthan, Puri in eastern Orissa state and Kapra in Andhra Pradesh.

Sarin said they are also looking at "three or four" other religious centres for development, without elaborating.

The Bird Group is developing its existing resort near Rishikesh to cater for the top end of the market, said Bhatia.

Ginger Hotels, a budget chain part of the Indian Hotels Company Limited which operates high-end hotels like Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace, is also expanding to cater for the boom in domestic business and leisure travel.

The chain's chief executive and director, Prabhat Pani, said "eight to 10" of the 40 to 50 new hotels they plan to open in the next five years will be in Tier-II cities or temple towns.

"The big story is the Indian traveller. The Indian traveller is not only travelling for business and going abroad but with disposable income going up many are travelling within the country," he said.

"All this really means is that demand for rooms is increasing and the category that's growing the fastest will really be the budget and economy sector."

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Life and Style
tech

Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download

Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff
tv

Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Arts and Entertainment
tv

Life and Style
i100

Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife
film

Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week