With Covid-19 cases steadily decreasing across the globe and tourist destinations gradually opening up, travellers are once again ready to hit the road to visit new and exciting places. While conventional modes of travelling continue to remain the preferred choice of many, others are also open to experimenting with exciting and new modes, read: caravans. A well-known concept in the West, caravan tourism is slowly growing in India with several state governments pushing for it, especially after the pandemic.
Recently, Kerala Tourism announced the introduction of caravans and caravan parks to lure tourists. “As of now, 150 people have registered for bringing in 350 caravans and around 90 people for bringing around 120 caravan parks,” V R Krishna Teja, director, Kerala Tourism said. The move came after the opening of the state’s first caravan park in Vagamon, a scenic hill station, as part of the state government’s new Caravan Tourism policy.
Soon, Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur also announced the promotion of caravan tourism for new tourist destinations. Earlier, states such as Maharashtra and Goa had introduced this unique tourism model in their respective states. With an increased focus on the concept and the growing demand, caravan tourism is all set to be a major disruptor in the tourism sector.
What is caravan tourism?
As defined by the Government of India, caravans are a unique tourism product, which promote family-oriented tours even in circuits/destinations that do not have adequate hotel accommodation. It is enabled using specially-built vehicles being used for purpose of travel, leisure and accommodation.
“Caravan tourism gives you the freedom to live and travel hassle-free — from where you want to settle, freedom to go to sleep to the sound of nature, to waking up next to the beach,” Sachin Panchal, founder, Motohom – the official caravan vendors of Maharashtra Tourism, said.
Further, the government noted that there is, at present, growing demand for eco, adventure, wildlife and pilgrimage tourism. With a shortage of accommodation at tourist destinations, especially in remote areas, caravan tourism holds the potential to meet this demand.
While caravans have been around in the country for some years now, there has been significant growth in the demand since the onset of the pandemic, service providers note.
“According to our statistics, because of Covid, people want to travel with a limited crowd, mainly with their family and close ones. A caravan is the best way as it provides all of it,” Panchal said.
Agreed Jigyasu Joshi, co-founder, Carvaa India, “We are seeing the curve going only upward in the last two years. The inclination has increased post-Covid not just among youngsters but also among the elderly. This is mainly because of the safety it provides. People want to travel in a bubble and caravan provides just that.”
“I have been running caravans for over 20 years but the demand and queries have grown only post-pandemic,” Captain Suresh Sharma, founder, Green Dot Expeditions said. “However, I believe it will still take a lot of time for people to understand what it actually is. Caravan tourism is not about travelling only for a couple of days, it is going to a nice location to spend days and weeks there.”
According to Tiger Ramesh, CEO, LuxeCamper, however, the demand is still not robust despite the growing awareness. “Lack of suitable caravans in India is a reason for demand not being strong.”
What travel enthusiasts think
Flexibility, end-to-end connectivity and comfort are some of the key factors in favour of caravan tourism, according to travellers. “I would prefer caravan travel because it will give me end-to-end connectivity — since I like to explore the interiors of the places I travel to. Secondly, it provides a great place to stay while travelling to remote areas. You normally don’t get good hotels or lodges at such places. So caravan solves that problem,” Chinmay Mungse, a travel enthusiast, said.
For Akarsh Bhardwaj, the reduced carbon footprints alongside the flexibility of changing the itinerary as per wish are some reasons why he would prefer caravan tourism over conventional tourism methods.
Caravan parks, a place where caravans can be stationed in tourist destinations with adequate facilities such as power, water and sewage disposal, is one of the prerequisites of sustained growth of caravan tourism. While several states are gradually focusing on their development, the ecosystem around caravan tourism is still at a nascent stage. “For caravan tourism to flourish we need parking spaces across the country. This has to be developed,” Tiger Ramesh said.
While caravan parks are yet to be developed in many regions of the country, service providers are tying up with local communities to park their vehicles. “Of course, there’s a lack of caravan parks but it is also upon service providers to find solutions. We, at Carvaa, have associated with several camping grounds in the country, which are a good substitute for parking space,” Joshi shared.
“We are connecting and collaborating with local and tribal agro-farmers for parking space which eventually provides them sustainability and business opportunities,” Panchal added.
Caravan parks are not commercially viable right now, Sharma believes. “It is going to remain as an illusion for some time. While governments are talking about these parks, it will grow slowly as there are not enough caravans in the country.”
A sustainable choice of travelling
Caravans are not just a flexible and comfortable mode of travel, but also a sustainable one. Explaining the same, Tiger Ramesh said, “Caravan tourism is very sustainable since the impact to any destination is just the tyre marks of the vehicle. No construction of hotels and lodges is required. Local communities benefit by providing hospitality services to caravan guests by providing food, local activities, cultural experiences etc.”
“In conventional tourism, you are impacting the environment in more ways than one. But, in caravans, you travel in a limited space with limited resources. This limitation, itself, makes caravan tourism much more eco-friendly,” Joshi said, adding that service providers are also including environment-friendly materials inside the caravans to make them more sustainable.
Is it the future of travel in India?
Absolutely, say service providers and travel enthusiasts. “The volume of calls from people who want to experience it has increased tremendously. Road travelling has taken a front seat right now so people are inclined towards it more. Additionally, the government’s initiatives such as the Bharatmala project are testament to the fact that road travelling is taking a front seat, with caravan travelling being one of it,” Joshi said.
Further, they believe that increased awareness about unique and flexible caravans is luring travellers’ interest, who no longer want to restrict their travel to common destinations or their stays to hotel accommodations.
The way forward
While the conversation around caravan tourism is at an all-time high, there are several factors affecting its smooth growth. Ranging from lack of caravan products to road permits — service providers shared factors that could be improved to boost caravan tourism in India.
Tiger Ramesh said: “Conversion of a vehicle to a caravan is not permitted unless approved by ARAI (Automotive Research Association of India). Other factors that impact caravan tourism include lack of halting sites, permits to ply across India, road taxes to be paid in cash in various state borders etc. Caravans should be brought under a single license plate across India with one permit and allowed to ply using a central road tax mechanism (like GST).”
“As it is a huge investment business model, you need support from the Government in terms of subsidies, hybrid caravan parks, financial support, marketing and promotion – which we are somewhere lacking behind,” Panchal added.
Sharma added that most caravans abroad are made on truck chechis. However, the same got banned in India 2-3 years back. “I have been driving trucks and it is absolutely smooth and safe. Policymakers need to include experienced people to understand what caravaning is and make appropriate decisions.”
“Encouraging people to make caravans, encouraging fabrication, reducing tax on imports of fittings of caravans etc are some key things that policymakers must do,” he added.