India’s pilgrim trail: a godsend for hotel chains

MUMBAI, May 29, 2011 (AFP) – 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 Bangalo