For years, I had been disturbed by the demolition of architectural heritage in India in the name of development. [If you haven’t already, please read my very personal account, As India Builds.]
I was looking for a business model with which to save beautiful, old houses that sat frightened all over India waiting for the cash-rich real estate developers’ dark eye to cast a glance at them.
In the Spring of 2008, I received an email from entrepreneur Hari Nair, CEO of HolidayIQ, an online travel company in India with a presentation on trends in the Indian tourism industry.
One of the most interesting observations of the HolidayIQ data was that Indian travelers like to travel in families and groups. 22.14% of their audience traveled in groups of 3-5, 20.93% in groups of 6-10, and an overwhelming 40.43% traveled in groups larger than 10. A key driver for this last category is corporate groups going for off-sites and team building experiences.
Another key datapoint in the study was that 56.62% of the travelers went for short 2-4 day trips, while 35.84% went for 1 day trips. Longer vacations were a luxury that only 7.54% were availing of. Not surprisingly, most of these trips were intra-region, as the affluent urban middle class accessed quick, short holidays.
This data gave me the idea that supported our venture, Renaissance Holidays.
The concept for Renaissance was to offer beautiful heritage properties as short, full service, vacation rentals. In other words, you can rent one of these houses for 3-4 nights, with cook, maid, nannies, etc. Most of the houses had 7-10 rooms, so they were perfect for both family vacations and corporate off-sites.
In addition, we added an extra layer of Renaissance thinking into the package. We created a network of artists, poets, musicians, and dancers with whom we held “salons” at each of our properties. Guests, thus, could have a unique, artistic experience that in many ways was appropriate for the kind of setting they were in.
We took our guests back in time.
For some, it evoked Satyajit Ray’s Jalshaghar. For others, it evoked Lorenzo Medici or Madame Récamier’s European salons. For me, it often evoked Tagore and the Bengal Renaissance.
There was always great food and great service. In fact, when guests included visitors from abroad, they were unequivocally stunned by both the meals and the service.
By 2012, we had acquired 200 such properties all over India. By 2016, we had 2000. And in 2020, we have 3000 properties owned and operated by the Renaissance Holidays group.
We not only owned properties in the hills and on the beaches, we even acquired properties in all the major cities. In Kolkata, for example, we acquired Sir Biren Mukherji’s Camac Street residence, as well as Manmathanath Ghose’s Pathuriaghata residence. While Sir Biren’s house was a British Colonial mansion, the Pathuriaghata palace was classical Indian courtyard architecture. Each house had a history, a story, which was captured and told through our extensive website.
When we started, we were charging an average of about Rs 20,000-30,000 ($500-$800) per night for an entire property that would house anywhere between 8-20 people, including food. Without much difficulty, we achieved 75% occupancy across our group. Prices had to be raised over our decade-long journey, and we were always very profitable.
In the larger properties like the two I mentioned above, we also held intimate conferences and cultural seminars.
Our properties also became outlets for artists and artisans selling paintings, sculptures, jewelry and crafts, while building long term relationships with their collectors.
By 2020, we were doing close to $400 Million in revenues. Also key in our business model is the fact that we own all our properties, and with India’s real estate appreciation, our balance sheet looks incredibly impressive, offering a company valuation that is downright astronomical.
Today, our brand has become an international phenomenon. Our clientele is no longer just Indians, which is what we had initially positioned for. People come from Europe and America to experience a quintessentially Indian way of life that they have only read about in books, or perhaps seen in films.
We have, over time, made deals with tour organizers all over the world, who bring an international clientele to experience the Indian Renaissance.
That experience spans not only architecture, food, music, art, poetry, but also warmth that is widely talked about in travel magazines all over the world.
A call to Indian entrepreneurs everywhere, Vision India 2020 challenges and inspires readers to build the future now. In this “futuristic retrospective,” author Sramana Mitra shows how over the next decade, start-up companies in India could be turned into billion-dollar enterprises. Vision India 2020, which encompasses a wide range of sectors from technology to infrastructure, healthcare to education, environmental issues to entertainment, proves how even the most sizeable problems can be solved by exercising bold, ambitious measures. Renowned in the business world, author Sramana Mitra conceived Vision India 2020 from her years of experience as a Silicon Valley strategy consultant and entrepreneur. Well aware of the challenges facing today’s aspiring entrepreneurs, Mitra provides strategies, business models, references, and comparables as a guide to help entrepreneurs manifest their own world-changing ideas.
This segment is a part in the series : Vision India 2020