After traditional hotels, Airbnbs and the Oyos of the world, luxurious holiday homes are attracting tourists across the country. Impersonal and predictable hotel stays are giving way to personalised, well-kitted homestays where you can crash with family and friends, cook your own food or get staff to cook for you and blend in the local culture.
SaffronStays, founded in 2014 by Tejas Parulekar (former banker) and Devendra Parulekar (former cybersecurity expert), is one such vacation home start-up that ties up with homeowners to offer a home-away-from-home to travellers. "We only partner with homes that have a story, unique character and endearing life. Currently, we have over 160 properties across India with most concentration in Mumbai," says Devendra Parulekar.
A 100-year old apple-clad home at Thanedhar Estate, a sombre home surrounded by Deodar forests set on an 8-acre estate in Jagheri Bagh or a fog cloaked five-bedroom duplex home in an otherwise cluttered destination Lonavala are some of SaffronStays properties.
"Hotels or resorts contain you to a room, but in homestays, you have the whole property. It's like hospitality and cosiness of a home even when on a vacation far away. A hotel can't give you the flavour of local life that homestays can," says Ankur Varman, AVP - Institutional Equity sales at SBI Capital Markets. He has stayed at two SaffronStays properties - Kurinji Estate in Tamil Nadu and Parnakuti in Nashik - with his family.
Other players include Vista Rooms, StayZilla, Airbnb and TriipVillas also offer home-like comfort and hotel-like luxuries to tourists.
Homeowners at ease
For homeowners settled abroad or living in metros, the arrangement helps maintain upkeep of the property and earn some money.
"My idea was to manage my holiday home better and earn at least operating expenses by opening it up to tourists. At the same time, I didn't want all kind of people to stay there that suddenly it becomes a hotel and loses the feel of a home," says Harsh Dhillon, consultant with an Israeli fund. His property at Jagheri Bagh having rooms with high ceilings, elaborate fireplace, grand library, open kitchen and glass windows overlooking the snow-capped mountains gives an idyllic ambience to the place.
Dhillon partnered with SaffronStays in February 2019. Although he expected more demand than he received (15-18 families until October), he has been happy with the kind of guests SaffornStays arranged for him. "I expected about eight nights per month. We haven't hit that number. But, the good part is Saffron does its due diligence. They are choosy about who can come to the property."
For Damini Sinha, who belongs to the family of Samuel (Satyananda) Stokes - who introduced Apple cultivation in India - it was an emotional decision. "I was reluctant to let strangers come to my house initially, but once family of an acquaintance came to stay with me. They were exhilarated at the sight of apples all around. The joy when they picked and plucked apples was spellbinding. Then, I decided to open my house to tourists so that they can partake in the legacy of nature that came handy to me."
Her holiday home that she has inherited from her mother is located at the zero milestone of Thanedar Estate.
SaffronStays started as a marketplace of homestays but changed its business model to differentiate itself. "We operate, manage and market vacation homes with SaffronStays branding. It gives us control and allows us to maintain a common element across homes that respective homeowners may not be able to deliver," says Parulekar.
The start-up offers different revenue models to homeowners from percentage sharing to leases. "On an average, we earn Rs 20,000 per property. Our monthly run rate (MRR) is Rs 1.5 crore," says Parulekar. From an MRR of Rs 50 lakh in 2018, to Rs 1.5 crore in 2019, SaffronStays expects an MRR of Rs 3-4 crore by March 2020.
Competition is growing fierce. Mishal Shah, north India business head, SaffronStays says the biggest problem that they face is sometimes big players offer more money to homeowners and take away their properties. "One of the well-known players in high-end luxury hospitality took over two of our properties in Goa," he says.
The cheapest villa at SaffronStays - Vipassana, Deolai - costs Rs 7,980 for six guests per night, while most expensive - Falcon Hill, Lonavala - charges Rs 67,000 for 12 guests.