Sick of the city: Why work from home when you can go on a long workation?

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After the pandemic forced people out of their office and strapped them to their couch for months, the idea of a ‘workation’ — previously deemed problematic for blurring the line between work and leisure — now seems like an appealing compromise.
Ever since Unlock 1.0 allowed hospitality services to reopen, those who can afford to do so are relocating for a few days, a month or even longer to destinations that are within short driving distance, have cooler weather and access to outdoor activities like trekking, fishing and biking.
The most sought-after workation destinations are in states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh where vacation homes have worked hard to boost hygiene and digital connectivity so that travellers could return, provided that they weren’t living in containment zones and had submitted a self-declaration form stating their health conditions and travel history.
For those like Santosh Menon, the long-stay workation model is just what the doctor ordered. “It’s not about a better view from the window but a conscious effort to separate yourself from an unchanging environment,” says the 56-year-old founder and CEO of a marketing company who is set to move lock, stock and laptop from the country’s Covid capital Mumbai to a bungalow perched on a hill in Kodaikanal, for the next six months. “When the reality of working and isolating at home indefinitely, sunk in, my wife and I decided that we’d shift for a couple of months. Since Zoom is where the meeting room is, I’d rather be stranded in a place that is scenic, has nice weather and accessible facilities without being cut off,” he says.
Uninterrupted WiFi being the backbone of a workation, many off-the-grid vacation homes that had grown popular among travellers craving to unplug from their hyper-connected lives are now upping their Internet game.
If the staff at Linger Leisure properties, a small hospitality chain that reopened some of their homestays and campsites in Chikmagalur, Palampur, Kumaon, Kodihalli and Coorg, spent an entire day in Zoom calls and Google classroom to test their WiFi and data speeds, The Porcupine Castle, a secluded resort on a 250-acre coffee and cardamom plantation in Coorg, procured a dozen dongles and installed broadband cables to welcome the WiFi tribe. “It’s been raining calls, sometimes 200 in a day, since we launched our workation package but we’re not allowing interstate travellers,” says Anila Paul, co-owner of Porcupine Castle. “We had an inspector from the public health centre train our staff, and the district office monitors tourists and their documents. That apart, I personally screen guests over a phone call. It’s exhausting but great to be back in business,” she exclaims.
Consent of locals or the village panchayat is crucial for remote lodgings looking to reopen. SaffronStays had to design their workation deal in Alibaug, Lonavala and Karjat for at least a month-long stay after villagers insisted that guests quarantine for 14 days. “We spoke to panchayats in each area since they were worried that outsiders may bring the virus. But they also understand that local jobs are at stake. Together we drafted the prerequisites,” explains Devendra Parulkar, founder of SaffronStays.
SaffronStays has also substituted guest registers with contactless check-ins while homes that were earlier sold “room-wise” are now being sold “villa-wise” to ensure that different groups do not come in contact with each other. Books on the premises are no longer accessible nor are pre-opened card or board games.
Some of the country’s travel behemoths too are drawing up workation blueprints. Thomas Cook and SOTC recently tied up with Apollo Clinics to launch what they call ‘Assured’, a comprehensive health and safety travel program. “Destinations chosen — Jaipur, Agra, Kolkata, Mahabalipuram, Kovalam, Udaipur, Madurai, Bhubaneswar, Puri, Gurugram — were based on ease of travel as well as access to metros, since most corporates want a continued work-from-home model,” explained Rajeev Kale, president and country head, Thomas Cook India.
The pricing for workation packages starts at Rs 25,000 for a ten-day stay at Porcupine Castle and can go up to Rs 2 lakh for a month-long stint at SaffronStays, ranging from a zero-staff model to full-service with meals and staff living in attached quarters.
But even as the travel industry tries to bounce back, it can be difficult to deal with an unpredictable virus. A few vacation homes voluntarily halted operations in Coorg within two weeks of reopening after new cases were detected, including a home stay owner suspected to have contracted the virus from tourists.
However, Sameer Shisodia, founder and CEO of Linger Leisure, is optimistic. “The urge to travel is stronger than ever but the nature of it will change — long-term rentals instead of daily pricing and vacations that are more engaged than touch-and-go breaks,” he says. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed for travel to become safer in reality and perception.”

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