Thinking of taking a staycation : Goa is emerging a top choice destination

As Goa beckons, imagine your next holiday starting with the hosts welcoming and walking you into their home. A destination where you are looking to make a connection with the local community, live their lifestyle, eat their food and imbibe some of their culture. As travel increases, search is on for sustainable, experiential options, perhaps a house that is a total breakaway from your own home. Accommodation are available with varied frills in diverse categories, numerous tiers and price range. Are the floodgates opening for home stays as an option to a hotel room?

Destination India Conversations speaks to a leading promoter of 400+ exclusive villas and homes; an interior designer also in the business of leasing his upmarket villa, and three home stay options. Learn why home owners have increasingly become host entrepreneurs by turning their under-utilised homes into an extra income source.

Promoting upmarket homes for experiential stays

Vista Rooms, founded in 2015, has an impressive portfolio of 400+ curated holiday homes sprinkled across the country, making it one of India’s largest luxury stay collection.

This collective brainchild of co-founders and avid travellers Ankita Sheth, Pranav Maheshwari and Amit Damani, was identified as providing premium personalised escapes to travellers amidst scenic surroundings and top-quality services.

“Around 2008 homestays were just being introduced to Indians exploring distinctive vacation stays. Goa, with over 40 Vista Rooms properties, entices visitors with its multicultural nuances, cuisines, pristine beaches, street markets, laidback lifestyle and security. The GenX clientele comprising mostly families has an increased affinity towards comfort and privacy in salubrious environs,” introduces Ankita. Amit

According to Vista Rooms, holiday homes have been one of the key factors in the economic growth of domestic tourism, which is expected to surge massively in the foreseeable future. This will grow and sustain the local economy and create sizeable employment – resulting in a lucrative state for both home owners and guests.

Both international and domestic travellers look for the ‘hospitality’ allure of a home over a hotel. An entire property for a family of 4/6 members, or slightly larger groups, with a pool, mini theatre, kitchen, kid- and often pet-friendly amenities is the answer.

HNI clients are known to invest in luxury properties, often built more out of a yearning than need, are barely utilised by the owners. Increasingly being tenanted to travellers, the income generates caretaker staff cost and maintenance, besides some earning for the owners. This sector is perceived to witness a boom and contribute commendably towards India’s GDP via domestic tourism in future.

“The company’s constant brand building processes ensures that its properties reach wider audiences, thereby ensuring higher returns. Support is provided from start, and includes adequately trained staff, to ensuring all guests’ requirements are met. Customer quality check is of utmost importance as owners entrust Vista Rooms with management of their homes. Responsibilities include guests adhering to rules and the critical aspect of no damage to the property,” Ankita says.

“The pandemic has changed consumer dynamics. Restriction on international travel has presented us with a large-scale opportunity. For starters, travel by road has increased almost 40% with people choosing destinations within drivable distances. Sanitised surroundings and social distancing remain paramount. Millennial confidence over alternative stays has further strengthened Work from Home which has conceptualised into ‘working from anywhere’ preferably amid panoramic settings – and the requisite high-speed internet connection!” informs Ankita.

Shew signs off with, “what we do NOW defines what we envision and accomplish next.” 

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An out-of-the-box experience

Mumbai-based Interior Designer Sandesh Prabhu, founder of Sandesh Prabhu Design Studio since 2006, yearned for a place on his home turf. The Prabhu’s ancestral home is in interior Goa, and Sandesh wanted to invest in a place by the sea. The designer saw the potential in an old villa situated on a 15,000 sq. ft. plot.

“The restoration was a labour of my love and passion towards old world charm! It took me 18 months to renovate the property, and by 2011 Turiya (Sanskrit, meaning pure consciousness) Villa was ready. Being based in Mumbai I soon realised it was a white elephant to manage such a huge house when you don’t live in it,” Sandesh commences.

Preferring boutique hotels as stopovers while travelling, it dawned on him that perhaps vacationers were also looking for options rather than cookie cutter 5-star hotels. A decade ago, while Goa Tourism was wondering how to categorise this upmarket Home away from Home accommodation, Sandesh introduced Turiya for an Experiential Holiday. Situated in a typical Goan village near Palolem, Patnem and Agonda beaches, it attracted the discerning Gen X international traveller which formed 70% of Turiya’s clientele.

With a plethora of alternative, creative homestays to suit all tastes and budgets mushrooming over the past 10 years, this optional lodging is becoming a strong contender in the hospitality sector.

“Covid has hit the niche properties. We had an extremely low 2020 season and wonder how 2021 will shape up. We are now marketing our facilities to the judicious domestic vacationing families who are flocking to Goa since it opened up for tourism during pandemic,” informs Sandesh.

Turiya’s strength has its guests returning home to their normal routine, and continuing to miss their out-of-the-box Turiya staycation. 

“Using that as our strong feature, we are confident Turiya will soon be busy again and we will be standing tall in the homestay business,” Sandesh concludes optimistically. 

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Backwaters along Olaulim Backyards

“In 2000 Savio and I moved to the small village of Olaulim along the backwaters in north Goa. Ten years later we entered the homestay market. Located on a three-acre property with its nature trail and water body, it is ideal for kayaking,” introduces Pirkko who is originally from Finland.

Prior to the pandemic, Olaulimgoa Backyard’s clientele was predominantly European and American during the high season months of October to April – with domestic visitors filling our rooms the rest of the months. Both domestic and foreign clientele seek local, personalised homestay experiences and experiences the lifestyle and local cuisine.

“The covid pandemic meant shutting our place for five months initially, so obviously it hit us big. Luckily now our domestic repeat guests feel safe staying with us as we follow covid regulations stringently. Besides, being in a rural setting, everyone is outdoors without the feeling of being overcrowded,” adds the local boy, Savio.  

“We have not had any instances of ‘undesirable’ guests staying here. Before opening our homes to strangers, as we are not on any online booking portal, we communicate directly with the visitors. This helps us gauge them, and they know what to except from us, and vice-versa. It’s been a win-win situation so far,” Pirkko, whose previous tourism experience is a boon to her business.

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Enjoy cashew feni in a heritage brewery

“We typically describe our business as a homestay on a farm. Guests enjoy walks on our nature trail, the natural water panorama pool and a private waterfall during the monsoon, all spread over lush 50 acres,” introduces Ashok Malkarnekar who spent his childhood at the family’s Dudhsagar Plantation in verdant eastern Goa. 

After spending eight years in the development sector in Mumbai and Jakarta, Ashok realised he was not a city guy. It was a no brainer that the nature lover returned to his roots. 

“In 2014 my father Ajit and I opened our plantation to guests. I was soon multi-tasking as front office manager, waiter, cook, barkeeper, and even plumber,” he recalls. 

Today, the plantation has five independent cottages, a spice garden and a heritage brewery where cashew feni is produced.

“Our guests are a blend of international and domestic travellers, and usually end up leaving as friends. The foreigners prefer a slower pace with more time at hand. The Indian guests have busier itineraries and shorter stays. Domestic visitors are increasingly embracing the idea of road trips and experiential travel. We offer communal, interactive dining, which results in interesting stories exchanged. They are inspired by our working with nature, rather than against it. You can’t replicate this in a hotel, where the ambience is more ‘anonymous’,” Ashok stresses.

Goa incites with its special vibe and since travel was allowed during the pandemic, has become a favoured base for Work from Home in addition to a vacation destination for families.  

Ashok recalls, “we had completely shut down during the initial six-seven months of covid. Now we have reopened with reduced occupancy while strictly following covid procedures. Our spacious premises prevent overcrowding and gives visitors reassurance to book with us.” 

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Stay in a 250-year-old mud cottage

One of the main attractions at Tanshikar Spice Farm is living in one of the five mud cottages. The two-and-half-century old age-old construction keeps inhabitants cool during summer and warm in cooler climes. In addition, there are seven wooden cottages and two tree houses to accommodate 30-34 people simultaneously.

Chinmay is the 3rd generation Tanshikar in the family estate spread over 40 acres among the rainforest of Western Ghats. He started this venture because “our elders believe that while growing our business and generating money is vital, yet it is more important not to leave your family home and village. This is an ‘organic growth’ business.”

Twelve years ago, we started by inviting day visitors to experience organic spice plantation and bee farming. Four years later, we introduced Agri-Eco Tourism, which got in visitors, showing if farming survives then only will tourism survive.

“Most international travellers were long staying guests preferring interactive experience and living and eating as the local Goan community does. Domestic visitors stay for shorter duration and are busy covering tourist places.

The client ratio earlier had been 70% international to 30% domestic visitors.  Since covid, a shift in thinking has domestic travellers selecting isolated hinterland homestays, rather than the preferred crowded beachside accommodation.

“We still adhere to our olders’ advice –. Stick to our basics and make it cost effective for guests,’ ends Chinmaya.

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