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."

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions