While on holiday in Europe, Tejas Parulekar realised that the time her family spent at a farmhouse in Spain, and a chateau in France was more enjoyable than at any hotel they had ever stayed in. It gave them privacy and space, and the kids had the freedom to run around freely without disturbing others. This sowed the seeds of a plan to create a discovery platform for luxury homestays, private villas, and heritage bungalows back home in India.
Based in Mumbai, SaffronStays is the brainchild of Tejas Parulekar, a Chartered Accountant with several years of experience in the banking industry. With her husband Devendra Parulekar, Senior Partner and Cyber Security Practice Leader for Ernst & Young as investor and mentor, SaffronStays is creating a new market by offering families luxury, heritage, and culturally rich homes as vacation destinations.
Many farmhouse and vacation home owners soon find out that accessorising and maintaining their home is no easy task. With no possibility of a rental income, and given its non-urban location, many owners end up regretting their decision to buy a property or a home.
There are others who have inherited beautiful heritage homes that still echo the sound of childhood summers spent there by the family. Such homes, passed on through generations, frequently lie unused, dilapidated, and in worse cases even usurped by the others.
SaffronStays prevents these beloved homes from falling into disrepair by accepting selected homes, bringing them up to hospitality standards, and operating them as luxury vacation rentals. In addition, they allow their Home Owners to vacation in not only their own home, but also in any home in the Network, thereby creating a Network of Vacation Homes.
On the traveller’s side, SaffronStays gives families the opportunity to make new memories in these luxury vacation homes, without actually having to invest in one or having the headache of maintaining one.
“We are the first Luxury Vacation Home Network in India,” says a beaming Tejas, “We are helping second-home owners to restore, renovate, and sustain their homes and get access to other such vacation homes in the process. SaffronStays was originally built to disrupt the market of renters and hotels by offering travellers a different staying experience. It was to help discover and book homestays. However, SaffronStays has evolved to create a unique market that does not exist – offering families luxury, heritage, and culturally rich homes. We are building a Luxury Vacation Home Network, the first of its kind. A Blue Ocean.”
SaffronStays started out as a homestays aggregator in April 2014 and acquired over 1,000 listings in just six months. By February 2015, they had launched commercially. and were doing brisk business. However, the challenge they faced was the quality of the homestays itself. The team realised there is no standard quality and, hence, travellers were often wary of booking. Moreover, the aggregator space was completely cluttered, with a new player being launched every few months.
During this time, they were approached by home-owners who wanted them to operate their homes as well as market them. They started with their flagship property in November 2015 –The Parsi Manor at Matheran – a 120-year-old British colonial-era, Parsi-owned bungalow, steeped in history. Within five months of the launch of The Parsi Manor, today SaffronStays manages 11 luxury homes, including two heritage homes.
Currently, there are an estimated 200,000 ultra-HNI Families, and ten times as many HNI Families in India, expected to double by the year 2020. A large majority own vacation homes and ancestral homes.
The team expects to accept 1,000 luxury vacation homes onto their network over the next five-six years.
This is a Rs 10,000 crore blue ocean opportunity that is expected to double in five-seven years.
The team believes that there are certain challenges in this model too.
From the host’s side: Finding the right house, and the right home owner with whom the vision to build the brand and experience for each Luxury Home is aligned. The team ends up selecting 1 out of every 10 homes.
From the guest’s side: Curating a unique experience for every stay, ensuring a certain standard of hospitality without losing the essence of the place. Sensitising guests to the fact that whilst they are invited to treat a Luxury Vacation Home as their own, they need to be respectful of the property, its artefacts, and the caretakers.
SaffronStays is the first Luxury Vacation Home Network in India. Backed by a robust, scalable, and secure technology platform, a centralised reservation system, a property management and expense management system, and a mobile app for the home owner offering 100 per cent transparency, Tejas believes that she and her team have a compelling brick-and-click strategy to build a solid micro-hospitality business.
Within three years, the six-member team aims to have a strong national presence and expand internationally thereafter. Having tried, tested and perfected the model, they are now looking to rapidly scale up the entire business.
Currently bootstrapped, SaffronStays is looking at raising funds shortly to build a solid home-acceptance team, branding and marketing activities, and a hospitality operations team. Tejas reveals, “We are only looking at investors who bring in either technical or marketing expertise, who believe in our long-term story, and who can mentor us in our journey.”
Check out saffronstays for more details.