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We know what you’re doing this summer

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Flamingoes at Jurong Bird Park, Singapore.
Flamingoes at Jurong Bird Park, Singapore.

Forget done-to-death holiday spots. Chennai-ites are booking themselves to exotic destinations to beat the heat, says DIVYA KUMAR

Gone are the days when summer travel meant visiting relatives in Bangalore or going to Yercaud for a couple of days. Chennai-ites have been getting more ambitious with their summer vacation plans over the last few years, and now, they’re starting to get more adventurous too, say local travel agents.

“I recently had a client who wanted to stay in an ice hotel in Sweden,” says Raghunath, executive director of Pegasus Travels, which specialises in niche destinations. “And since Machu Picchu was declared one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, those looking for adventure have gotten more interested in trekking down the Inca trail,” he adds.

Meaning that this summer, the well-travelled Chennai-ite is looking for new sights to see and new destinations to explore. For example, A.S. Venkhatramani, who runs an advertising agency, just got back from a nine-day visit to Vietnam with three friends.

“I travel quite extensively and I thought, ‘let’s go somewhere we haven’t gone before that’s not too far away’,” he says. “Plus, it’s a place with so much culture and a country that’s been making rapid progress recently.”

So, the four took in the sights at traditional Hanoi, the “simply breathtaking” Ha Long Bay and the historic Cu Chi tunnel about 250 km from the city of Ho Chi Minh. And, Venkhatramani got to try some exotic Vietnamese street food: “I love to try local food — not at star hotels, but from the roadside stalls — and I had one of the best meals ever, including a rare jelly fish, at Hanoi.”

But trips such as these are clearly for the experienced traveller who knows what he’s looking for. “For a beginner, I think Bangkok, with its more obvious charms, is better. Vietnam might be a disappointment,” says Venkhatramani.

Abhishek Damani, branch manager at Raj Tours and Travels, agrees. “Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore are evergreen destinations for the first-time traveller,” he says. “They don’t strain the budget, and offer something for everybody. These places see traffic throughout the year.”

And then, there’s Europe — one destination that’s unlikely to go out of style as a summer vacation spot anytime soon. “Our 20-day package covering eight countries remains popular during summer because it’s value for money,” says Abhishek. “You get to see the metros like Paris and London, the beaches of Nice and the culture of the Vatican.”

But, even with European travel, certain new trends are visible. “With larger incomes and fewer restrictions on foreign exchange, families are opting to create their own package and travel alone rather than as part of a large group,” says Raghunath.

“It costs them 50 to 75 per cent more, but they get to do it the way they want, rather than having 5 a.m. wake-up calls and 7:30 a.m. departures.”

These families often choose one or two countries to explore at leisure rather than trying to pack in several, and are willing to experiment with destinations. Scotland, Greece, Turkey, Austria, Spain, Portugal and the Scandinavian nations are slowly gaining popularity as Chennai-ites are starting to look beyond London and Paris. In fact, the indefatigable Venkhatramani is planning a trip to Ireland with his family next.

That willingness to experiment extends outside Europe as well — South Africa, Egypt and Morocco are seeing more traffic, and Australia-New Zealand has become a high-end hotspot.

Balaji Srinivasan and his wife Madhumita, for example, recently went on a nine-night trip to South Africa for their honeymoon because they “wanted to go somewhere different”. “Madhumita had seen South Africa featured on ‘Travel and Living’ as one of the 1000 places to visit before you die, so we decided to go there,” says Balaji.

The couple loved the idyllic beaches of Cape Town, the wildlife and beautiful villages such as Knysna, though the lack of safety was a bit of a problem. “We were told it wasn’t safe to go out on our own after 5 p.m.,” says Balaji.

Still, ‘doing something different’ seems to be the mantra of the growing population of experienced travellers in Chennai.

“Clients come and say, ‘I’ve visited all these places already, what new destinations can you offer?’” says Abhishek.

Raghunath agrees, adding that this was not the case five years ago. “They’re getting more information from others who’ve travelled and don’t want to restrict themselves to traditional sightseeing,” he says. “The Chennai traveller is far more educated today.”

Top international destinations

  • Far East — Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore

  • Europe — Group tours are popular, but families are choosing

    to travel on their own as well

  • Australia/New Zealand — expensive but growing in popularity

  • South Africa/Mauritius — honeymooners’ favourite

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