Gypsy Travels: Caravan Tourism Arrives in India

By Madhusree Chatterjee

New Delhi/Khajuraho, Aug 7 (IANS): A seven-seater caravan carrying a family of four from Britain cruises along on a single lane between Orchha and Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh. The rain has left a cool shroud of moisture in the air.

"We love this caravan that we have rented from a transporter in Delhi," says Dominic Jones, a software consultant from Sussex who is touring India with his wife and two children. The family, which intends to stay till October-end, lives and sleeps in the van.

The caravan will ferry them around New Delhi too during the Commonwealth Games, Jones says.

Welcome to the world of "gypsy caravaners" - a new breed of niche tourists who prefer the comfort of caravans or mini-homes on wheels while on holidays. The tribe is increasing its footfall in India with caravan tourism slowly becoming a viable option.

"We cater to a niche clientele of foreign tourists, showbiz personalities and individual corporate entities," Raju Babbar, owner of Babbaraju Mobile, one of the few auto firms in India that specialises in Western-style caravans, told IANS.

His firm has bagged an order from the Madhya Pradesh government that wants to promote caravan tourism in major destinations.

The caravans built on a base of 'Force Motor Tempo Traveller' - a light commercial vehicle - are available in five categories: the family caravan, friends' caravan, honeymoon caravan, individual caravan and the conference caravan.

Urban Cruiser, the fast moving family luxury caravan, is fitted with a mini kitchen, washroom, bar cabinets, refrigerator, laser television, two spacious recliners, couches, integrated audio system and multi-flow air-conditioning.

In May, Babbar unveiled his 10-seater 'Conference on Wheel' caravan designed like a boardroom that can host corporate meetings on the move.

"The conference tourism market is exploding in India and the demand for caravans is on the rise. The clogged arteries of Indian metros make it an ideal vehicle to host mobile corporate parleys," he said.

Currently, travel transporters in Delhi are plying 700 multi-seater utility caravans called 'Travelizzm' that will be used for the Commonwealth Games in October, Babbar said.

The vehicles are priced between Rs.17 lakh and Rs.27 lakh.

German automobile giant Volvo, known for its tourist buses, is gearing up to meet the demand for caravans in India. "Our vehicles are often modified into caravans by customers after purchase," company spokesperson Vivekanand Jha told IANS.

In May 2009, Mumbai-based auto designer Dilip Chabria designed a caravan for Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan. Built on a long Volvo chassis, the grey caravan boasts of a drawing room, resting rooms and a gymnasium.

Chabria, who took three months to build the caravan, said: "Designing the caravan was his most difficult and ambitious project in 16 years."

Last year, he designed another vehicle for Rs.3 crore fitted with a shower, bar, resting enclosure, entertainment lounge complete with a DVD player, X-Box and a playstation for actor Sanjay Dutt.

Madhya Pradesh-based Concept Combination Ltd, an auto-design firm, offers innovation styling and integration of systems to modify SUVs into holiday caravans. Pune-based Overlanders also fashions caravans from SUVs.

Caravans are making inroads into the domestic circuit after the government announced its caravan tourism policy in July last year, leading Delhi-based tourist transport operator Bobby K.S. Sawhney said.

"It has huge potential given the country's sprawling domestic destination network and the rising flow of foreign tourists. State tourism cells are realising the importance of caravans as luxury transport," Sawhney said at an Indian Tour Transporters' Association conclave in the capital this week.

The government, under its caravan tourism policy, described "caravans as a unique tourism product that promotes family tourism in destinations without adequate hotel accommodation". Under the policy, it proposes to build modern caravan parks under public-private partnerships to park tourism campers and motor homes.

"The caravan parks would add another exciting new facet to tourism in Incredible India," the policy vision said. At the conclave, Tourism Minister Kumari Selja said "caravans could be rented for Rs.2,000 to Rs.5,000".

But experienced caravan travellers like Aashish Gupta, founder-director of Dimensional Learning that conducts strategy workshops for the tourism industry, feels "caravan tourism has a long way to go before it comes of age".

"The concept is still new. Caravans must have a standard licensing regime, uniform designs and homogeneous price points. Indians are still not used to driving their own caravans," Gupta told IANS.


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