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."

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
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
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

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Recruitment Genius: Processing Partner

    £15000 - £19200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Processing Partner is require...

    Recruitment Genius: PPC Manager - SW London

    £34000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist travel agent ba...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower