Content creator and hotelier Akshayraj Singh Shaktawat is no stranger to the colourful land of Rajasthan. However, with the pandemic stopping him on his tracks to explore the rest of the country, this social media maven took it as an opportunity to rediscover his home state once again. He talks to us about his rebound trip and more. By Bayar Jain
1. Where did you go for your first rebound trip, and what was it like?
It started with a staycation in Udaipur at The Royal Retreat Resort & Spa for more than 10 days. That encouraged me to explore even further. But my first trip out of my hometown was to Kumbalgarh for my birthday, which—although a baby step in terms of distance—helped kicked off the travels ahead. I realised that, to a certain extent, if you keep all precautions in mind at all times, then travelling right now is actually great. Hotels have never been more accessible! However, I ensure I take care of my health by taking immunity-boosting measures.
2. Why did you choose this particular destination?
To start off, I am probably as paranoid as anybody when it comes to COVID-19. So my first concern was the number of cases in the area, and the kind of precautions being taken by the property. It was only after I checked the number of rooms occupied at my accommodation and getting comfortable with everything did I confirm my travel plans. I stayed at Fateh Safari Suites in Kumbhalgarh, which is a secluded property. That definitely gave me peace of mind. It was a breath of fresh air! A change in scenery really refreshes you and staying indoors for so long had me all craving it even more!
3. What mode of transport did you opt for to reach your destination, and how different was it compared to pre-COVID-19 times?
For safety reasons and considering all my travels have been for leisure, I prefer smaller distances at one go. Hence, I have been travelling by road in a personal vehicle.
4. How did your friends and family react when you told them you’re going on a vacation right now?
It definitely raised quite a few eyebrows, especially since my travels started in the first week of July! But now, I think the travel bug has bit everyone.
5. Where were you when the lockdown was announced?
I am so lucky to have been at home when the lockdown started. I’m grateful to have been with the family throughout this period. I remember when the news of a lockdown came in, guests at our property [Jagat Niwas Palace] started panicking when they realised they would have to cut short their travel and how flights back to their home countries could be halted. Luckily, we [Shaktawat and his team] were able to connect them to their embassies and sort it all out.
6. How did you feed your love for wanderlust during the lockdown?
Honestly, Travel + Leisure India & South Asia’s social media content has been giving me travel goals! I have full itineraries now for when the pandemic goes away for good. Other than that, I have been exploring my hometown Udaipur a lot! There is so much this beautiful city has to offer, and I never got a chance to see it earlier because I never found the time. So, whenever anyone comes here, they now know who to ask for the best hikes and unexplored lakes!
7. Being a travel content creator, how did you ensure you stay relevant when travel remained restricted?
As a content creator, I have tried to not restrict myself just to travel. Whenever I travel, fashion and lifestyle have been at par with the travel aspect. So throughout the lockdown, I experimented with photography, and styling (food and fashion, both). With the introduction of reels, a lot of scope was added to videos and hence I started doing travel-related reels. Social media requires the maximum amount of interest to be generated in the least amount of time, and to a certain extent, that content does better. I’ve been trying to keep that in mind, too.
8. As a hotelier, what are the changes you foresee in the hotel industry post the pandemic?
As a brand, Jagat Collection has always been working on sustainable tourism and promoting the idea of slow living. What we thought would prevail post-lockdown as a mindset for consumers and service providers would be a very strong and conscious move toward these ideas, but I think everyone is again starting to take their surroundings and heritage for granted. Although I cannot speak for others, I can confidently say that Jagat Collection will continue to strive towards creating a better legacy opposed to one of taking nature for granted. This needs to be applied not only to the hospitality sector but throughout all industries.
9. Being a Rajasthan maven, what are some hidden gems of the state you’d recommend to travellers for their rebound trips?
For anyone travelling to Rajasthan, I’d recommend that they take out a generous time! There is just simply so much to see and do here. Apart from the bigger tourist destinations like Udaipur, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, the smaller places give you the essence of the state. There are some beautiful hidden gems in and around Bundi, Jhalawar, Alwar, Ranakpur, Karauli, Dungarpur, Narlai, Churu, Rohet, Bharatpur, Bera, Ranthambore, and Pokhran… and this is not even the half of it!
10. What are your predictions for post-COVID-19 travels?
Travelling, especially for the immediate future, is definitely going to be more inclined towards places that offer complete experience along with promoting clean and sustainable tourism. Guests will want immersive experiences, which showcase the culture of the place they visit, without them actually having to explore the entire region. I am inclined towards the idea of slow travel, and I think the hospitality industry is headed there as well. I hope that there is a paradigm shift in the mindset of how people travel. Travel needs to be for the soul and I hope people look for that when they search for places to book. I like to promote the idea of #VocalForLocal.
11. Any tips on how one can travel more responsibly and consciously, especially in the post-COVID-19 era?
Every person involved in the process—from a service provider to the final consumer—needs to be conscious of all stages of their activity, and should try to minimise damage to the environment. Although COVID-19 has negatively impacted the world right now, there are even bigger implications that our current actions will have on nature in the future. I hope that is a rise in consumer demand to know from where and how the final product is being delivered. Conscious tourism is the need of the hour, but then this idea of conscious and sustainable consumerism needs to be channelled in all other spheres of life as well.
12. Where would you like to travel to next?
Within Rajasthan, I have my eyes set on Jhalawar and Alwar next. Within the country, I have been eagerly looking forward to Ladakh because I fear it will get too commercial in the coming years. If the option of international travel arises, then I hope to go to Antarctica and explore that beautiful terrain.