An interview with Nitin Mongia, the owner of a boutique villa in Alibaug, Maharashtra

Nitin MongiaNitin Mongia, world champion yachtsman and Arjuna Award Winner and owner of a Boutique Villa in Alibaug area of Maharashtra, speaks to Holiday Home Times in an exclusive interview about his property, his passion for food and his future plans.

The interview…

Please tell us something about your background – Personal and Professional.
I started working in the stock market whilst in my second of year of college essentially to earn some extra money. My passion in life is has always been sailing and cooking. I have traveled extensively for various International Championships; traveling on extremely small budgets we would invariably land up cooking our own meals and I found that cooking was the best way to unwind after a stressful day of racing on the water. After winning the World Championship in 2003, I was wondering how many more years I would sail (though I am still sailing) and had to start looking at various options to settle down. I started a catering company in Mumbai which was quite successful, but my heart was set in Alibaug which was our weekend home which I built with my own hands from scratch.

Can you tell us a bit about the property and its history?When did you acquire it?
The land was bought way back in 1988 by my father, a Commodore in the Navy with the intention to build a home to live in after he retired and travel to Mumbai and back for work. It’s located just 3 km from the jetty in Mandwa and very easily accessible from Mumbai by ferry or speedboat. The property was named Ccaza Ccomodore after my father who wanted to run a weekend dhaba and a Black tiger Pub (after his favourite cheroot).

The construction started in 1992, but was delayed and finally finished in 1994. By then the family was living and working in Mumbai and it became a weekend home.

When and why did you decide to turn your property into a holiday home? How did you start out? What are the small changes you made to change from a home to a holiday home?
I found a huge gap in the market where the only option for people to stay in Alibaug was at a five star hotel or at friends’ places. We decided to provide a fully serviced Luxury private stay for guests, where we catered to customized meals, full-time house-keeping service, etc.

It would be a place with all the luxuries of a hotel and the comforts of a home. The entire place was refurbished all rooms, bathrooms, a new swimming pool built, full back up generator, cable TVs. I also made a large central kitchen which can cater to the guests’ meals and can cater for day trips and brunches for up to 120 pax. I also started a takeaway and catering service for home owners in Alibaug. It started off as a weekend business, but now has grown into a 7 days a week with even the locals ordering in!!  We are now looking at opening a café in Alibaug too.

You have been in the business of holiday home rental for quite some time now. Can you please tell us how much involvement is required from you (as the owner) to successfully run this business?
As most of my work is centered in Alibaug. I am very hands on and am obsessive and neurotic when it comes to perfection. I spend roughly 4-5 days of the week in Alibaug morning-evening.

I decided to take the holiday home one step further and make it luxurious and fully serviced. It does increase operational costs but the new aged traveler does not want to get out for a holiday and lift a finger, we cater to that, with gourmet meals one could find in a fine dining restaurant, to foot spas and massages we cater to every need of the guest.

According to your what makes your property unique? Why do you think travelers should rent out your property?
A lot of people build the property on location I have built it around my food. The food is a big part and we get same guests coming back up to 5 times a year with large groups of different friends. We have guests who have hired speedboats to come for the day to have our quiches. The food is completely preservative free and sourced from nearby to ensure freshness and quality.

Our property is a fully serviced villa with all amenities. It is a completely private stay for the guests – they do not have to share the space or pool with anyone else.

What is the present level of activity in the real estate sector of Alibaug? Would you recommend it as a location for holiday home buyers and homestays?
Cost of land has gone up drastically so if you have a place it makes sense to use it. To purchase a second home and then give it out would not work economically in today’s market.

You must have been interacting with several kinds of visitors who had stayed in your home? What kinds of guests, according to you, are suitable for staying in a holiday home?
I don’t think there is a specific category of guests for a homestay. There is definitely a shift in people going to stay at a hotel to coming for a homestay/ B&B.

With kids and maids going to a five star can pack quite a bill at the end of the day, but more than costs I think people want their own space and privacy. The children playing are close by and they don’t need to be watched 24X7. The adults too get a holiday. 

What is your philosophy that drives how you run things in your property? Do you have any set rules or ideals that as a holiday home owner you must follow?
I look at it from the point of view of the guest. If I was the guest how would I like my experience to be…everything must be perfect. At the end of the day someone getting out for a holiday wants a holiday. So right from the time the guest arrives to departure, the staff is ready to cater to their every need.

Over the last few years we have put many rules in place from a pet policy, no smoking in rooms, cancellation and refund policy, check in and check out timings, tea/coffee and extra meals snacks. One has to cover everything possible to cater to the mindset of the traveler so that there is no room for misunderstanding and no miscommunication.

Unlike hotels, in a holiday home rental, you are opening up your home to guests, most of whom you have just interacted with or have never met before. How do you ensure or how do you build the trust that makes you believe that a particular guest is best for your holiday home.
When I started we completely personalized the space given out to the guests. We built a separate villa for the family to use, right from photographs to any personal items were all removed. The guests coming to stay feel they have come to a villa for a private stay and not a home.

Trust is a very important factor when it comes to successfully run a holiday home rental business. How do you ensure that all guests coming to stay in your property are trustworthy?
That’s a tough one but we have a 100% advance payment policy so that takes care of the payment part. The rest you have to handle a situation as and when it happens.

Have you had any high profile guests? What are important things to keep in mind while handling them?
Yes, we have had some high profile guests. Privacy….Privacy…Privacy!

Have you added any amenities on the luxury side? What are ones that you are eying?
TT table, Badminton facilities. Specialty is our tea and coffees.

We are looking at a luxury sail boat to do sailing charters and stays on board the boat – an experience to remember. 

What are present rates that you charge? Where would you like to see this go in the near term and what do you think we as an industry can do to get better rates?
INR 12,000 per night twin sharing with all meals, plus taxes.

I think we need to get concessions on taxes so that the traveler can benefit.

What percentage of your business comes from travel agencies? Social Media? Friends? Regular clients?
It varies. Most of it from the website directly, word of mouth, and guests who have visited and referred the place.

What are your top tips for other vacation home/ homestay owners?

  • Be absolutely clear on what you provide and what is charged
  • Deliver on what you have promised
  • Payments for bookings always 100% in advance
  • Put all your policies in place and email the guest with the same
  • Remember the guest is always right, but not at the cost of misbehaving or misusing your property.