Thoughts are things – this could be the apt phrase to describe the manifestation of Saffron Stays. Fond of traveling themselves, it was on one such holiday with family that the Parulekars realized that there is a vacuum in the Indian travel scenario and a potential to be tapped in the Family Travel sector.
Coins and Maps in a chat with soul mates turned teammates Tejas Parulekar, Co-Founder, and Devendra Parulekar, Co-Founder – Growth and Technology, Saffron Stays finds that India still loves to travel with family and friends.
The core idea behind Saffron Stays Leisure Home Network is – Where Families Bond. Just the tagline gives you an idea of what a happy, cheerful and vibrant home-away-from-home these abodes would be – ranging from heritage bungalows to luxury villas to quaint country homes and large estates, Saffron Stays is more than just an aggregator, I would say it is a curator.
1. How did you conceive the idea of SaffronStays?
On a holiday in Europe, my husband Deven, and I realized that our kids had enjoyed their stay at a farmhouse in Spain and a château in France more than any hotel they had ever stayed in. It gave us privacy, space and most importantly, freedom to our kids to run around freely without disturbing others. An idea was thus conceived to create a discovery platform for homestays, private villas, and heritage bungalows.
While India had many beautiful homestays to offer, there was no unified platform to research, find, and book these. We wanted to provide that platform.
2. When and how did you begin?
Saffron Stays was originally built to disrupt the market of renters and hotels by offering travelers a different staying experience. It was to help discover and book homestays. We began as an aggregator in 2013 but soon realized there was an element missing.
We were approached by many homeowners who wanted us to not only operate their homes but to also market them. We realized this is a real need and a problem waiting to be solved. So we evolved to tap into a unique market – offering families luxury, heritage, and culturally rich homes.
We began with our flagship property, The Parsi Manor at Matheran which eventually led to the creation of the Saffron Stays Leisure Home Network.
3. How did you both decide to quit your well-paying jobs? What were the hardships you had to face?
The challenge – where do we begin? Our first stumbling block was tech itself. The agency working on our website walked off the project just 2 days before our pre-launch date. We did not even have a landing page! In hindsight, it was a good thing because we managed to do it ourselves.
Not wanting to see our dreams crash, Deven – my husband, investor, and mentor in Saffron Stays – took up the challenge. Over a lot of long nights, he re-learnt coding from scratch and created the entire user-friendly website you see today. This was during his highly demanding role as a Practice Leader for Cyber Security at Ernst & Young LLP.
The next challenge which moved us to our current pivot was the quality of the homestays itself. We realized there is no standard quality and hence travelers are often weary of booking. They feel ‘safe’ in hotels, assured of ‘quality’. However, the fact is below a 5-star hotel, the quality just plummets.
We noticed that luxury homes/ villas are the preferred choice when families travel together. In India, we always travel in groups, cousins, office friends, school friends, parents of kid’s friends. We have numerous social circles. And we like to take short quick breaks with them. At such times, a whole bungalow or villa to your own group is a perfect idea. These insights and roadblocks helped us create the Saffron Stays Leisure Home Network you find today.
In fact, not only holidays and short breaks with families but one can also look at family get-togethers or private functions at these beautiful properties.
4. Why and how did you decide on the name ‘Saffron Stays’?
As a spice, Saffron appeals to three out of your five senses – your sense of smell, sight, and taste. It’s something that’s familiar, something that’s intrinsically Indian and something you associate with warmth and class. It’s both comforting and classy. These are all factors that we wanted our brand to denote.
5. How old is Saffron Stays and how far has been the journey so far?
The journey has been like trying on different pairs of shoes. Some things have worked out and many things have not. As an entrepreneur, the first thing you need to tell yourself is you don’t know anything. Learn, absorb like a sponge, adapt. We have been lucky to have been mentored by the best in the industry. Our mentors have kept us grounded, and true to our cause. It’s been one thrilling 4-year journey and we know we are just at the start of it.
6. How do you differentiate yourself from other players in the segment like Stayzilla and Oyo Rooms?
We focus exclusively on creating The Leisure Home Network – a carefully curated collection of ancestral homes, villas, and luxury vacation homes. Often these are ancestral homes that still echo with the sound of childhood summers spent with family. Or second-homes those were built with great love and care but are now seldom used. By operating these beloved homes as vacation rentals, we prevent them from falling into disrepair and convert them into one-of-a-kind holidays.
For the traveler’s, we give families the opportunity to make fantastic memories without having to invest in a vacation home. For those who are bored of sterile hotel holidays, these luxury homes offer families the vacation they want, away from the traditional setting of a hotel or resort.
As a result, we are not only able to facilitate homeowners but also provide luxury, curated holidays for the discerning traveler.
Saffron Stays manages 27 homes in the network in a span of 12 months
7. How do you select a property to be a partner/affiliated with Saffron Stays?
We get a lot of leads largely through word of mouth or referrals from existing homeowners or satisfied guests who’ve stayed at one of our properties.
Once we have identified a property, there is a detailed audit that we go through to assess the property. From its location to the story behind it to the upgrades required onsite, we conduct a complete analysis of the property to ensure that it meets the needs of our travelers. Once the audit is complete, we agree upon a phase-wise implementation of the upgrades (if needed) before we partner with the homeowner.
8. How does a property gain once it is affiliated with Saffron Stays?
Most of these properties, while being built with a lot of aspiration, passion, and love, end up being a financial and emotional drain on the homeowners. This is where we as a brand come in. We help these owners monetize their properties in a sustainable way while staying true to their vision.
From handcrafted hospitality to efficient service, we ensure that we constantly cater to the discerning traveler while retaining the property’s unique character and charm. It’s a win-win for all.
9. Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
Over the next 5 years, we really want to take the successful story we’ve built and create a national footprint for Saffron Stays. I believe that we can build an exclusive Saffron Stays Leisure Home Network where travelers have the opportunity to stay in a luxury home-away-from-home, no matter what part of the country they’re in.
10. How do you think the travel scene is shaping up in India?
Currently, there are an estimated 200,000 ultra-HNI families and ten times as many HNI families in India. This number is expected to double by the year 2020. A large majority of these families own vacation homes and ancestral homes, creating INR 10,000 crore blue ocean opportunity that is expected to double in five-seven years.
This is a huge market waiting to be tapped. More and more families are looking to escape boring, sterile hotel holidays by choosing curated vacations and we anticipate more players entering the vacation rentals and custom holiday’s scene.
Inner Temple, a luxury wellness villa in Moira, Goa
11. Where do you get most of your clients from?
Most of the guests come to us through word of mouth or referrals. We’ve found that once a guest visits one of our properties, they keep coming back.
12. Which was the first property to be affiliated and how challenging/easy was it to convince the owners to be a part of Saffron Stays?
When we shifted from an aggregator model to our current model in November 2015, we started with our flagship property – The Parsi Manor at Matheran – a 120-year-old British colonial-era, Parsi-owned bungalow, steeped in history. The homeowners were quite excited about the prospect of highlighting the regal heritage of the Manor and were willing to experiment. Within five months of the launch, we began managing 11 luxury homes, including two heritage homes.
To know more click here: Saffron Stays
Proud to be a bootstrapped and a profitable company, Saffron Stays is growing organically and is building a ‘Make in India’ brand.