Many people dream of leaving the corporate world and running their own homestay or becoming hospitality entrepreneurs. Today we interview Bennita Ganesh who along with her husband Ganesh Subramaniam runs a very successful homestay called Arco Iris in Goa. Bennita and Ganesh both previously enjoyed successful corporate and business careers before they started their homestay.
Hi Bennita, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. We felt that you would serve as an inspiration for other professionals who are considering becoming hospitality entrepreneurs. Please tell us something about your background – Personal and Professional.
I am an MBA who had spent my life on the commercial and operations side of IT and BFSI companies. Immediately prior to starting Arco Iris, I was the founding member of a startup for about 7 years co-founded by my husband. As you can see, I had no prior experience in the hospitality sector per se. But given my understanding of my own temperament, I was reasonably confident that I would be a good fit for the industry. In any case, we kind of eased into the homestay without stressing ourselves too much about it. In fact, this was one of the significant reasons for us to move away from the corporate world and do something which would be more hands-on, fulfilling and have better control of outcomes.
Can you tell us a bit about your beautiful 200+ year old homestay property and its history? When did you acquire and renovate it?
Arco Iris is now about 220 years old. It had been with the Costa family since the beginning and we purchased the property from Julie Costa in 2006-07. She wanted to sell it for personal reasons and especially since it had not been occupied for about 40 odd years. She was born and brought up in the property and resided there till her marriage. It overlooks a seasonal lake which is used primarily for agriculture. Curtorim is often referred to as the “Granary of Goa” and is blessed with quite a few lakes.
It took us more than a year of searching before we found the place and immediately felt that it was THE place for us. Having bought the place, we spent 3 years in restoration. We used to live in Bangalore those days and it was an effort to coordinate all the restoration and renovation efforts. We moved in during 2010-11 and spent a few months completing our restoration efforts.
Why did you decide to turn your property into a homestay? What changes did you have to make to get started as a homestay?
The house itself is fairly large at about 7000 sq ft. We are a nuclear family of 4, and it would have been too big for us especially since our two daughters were just about 8 and 5 years old when we moved in. We were also confident that the house and its location would find favor with travelers who were keen to experience the hinterland of Goa, away from the noise and hustle of the beaches and party hot spots. All this considered, we were again reasonably confident that if positioned and marketed to a different set of audience, it would be a reasonable alternative for travelers.
In terms of the restoration, we have remained faithful to the original design of the house. The significant changes we made were more like bringing in electricity, running water, en suite bathrooms, tiled flooring etc. Over a period of time, we also added something like an “outhouse” for our daughters and an office room so that we had our own privacy.
Can you please tell us how much involvement is required from you as the owner to successfully run this homestay?
I am completely hands on and the rest of the family pitches in whenever required. I personally oversee every aspect of the business. I am fully seized by the fact that our guests come looking forward for our involvement in their experience of the place. Also, over a period of time, we have built a small, committed team who are also fully aware of what we promise as a guest experience and together we try to delight our guests.
In fact our involvement in the first three years was so high, that during this period, we did not take a single holiday as a family. It took us a while to figure out how to take breaks during the slack seasons.
How do you generate most of your business/bookings?
We are a largely online business. Most of our bookings are through our own website. A few years back, we also tied up with Neemrana Hotels since we felt that there was good synergy between our brands. Over time, a significant portion of our guests now are repeat visitors to Arco Iris.
You have a lot of repeat customers. According to you what makes your property unique? Why do you think travelers keep coming back?
I guess it is a function of the natural beauty of the place and the bonds that we have been able to build with almost all our guests. Most importantly, Curtorim is also a very safe village.
What are some of the activities that guests can partake in at your property or close by?
We are located more or less in the middle of Goa. This means that both the Northern and Southern tips of the state are not more than 2 – 2.5 hours away by road. Guests can make a day trip, for instance to Palolem/ Agonda in the South or to Morjim/ Ashwem in the North and be back the same day.
In the immediate vicinity of the property, the attractions include:
- Walk to St Alex Church
- The historical village of Chandor (Chandrapur)
- Asia’s oldest seminary in Rachol
- Walking and cycling trails around Curtorim itself
- Birding in the Maina lake
- Walk to the Zuari river which flows just about a km behind the house
- Picnics by our own lake
- Heritage walks around Rachol and Raia
A homestay must feel like another member joining your family for a few days. How has your family’s experience been with the many guests you have interacted with?
Without doubt, this has been the most fulfilling and enriching part of this journey. Suffice to say we have made several lifelong friends. We have been very fortunate not to have a single, unpleasant experience with our guests thus far. They have been most considerate and accommodating. In fact, our daughters’ interest in languages like French and introductions to things like philosophy, design etc has been largely thanks to the kind and extent of their interactions with our guests. We have been taught humility, courage in the face of adversity, humaneness and respect for diversity and plurality through our interactions with our guests.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in running your homestay and how have you been able to tackle these challenges?
When we started Arco Iris in 2010-11, the internet was not as widespread as it is now. So, initially reaching out to our audience was a challenge and we are deeply grateful to our initial set of guests for both their encouragement and positive word of mouth. Things have changed a lot since those days in terms of internet penetration and adoption.
Given the novelty of homestays when we started, statutory regulations were a little opaque. We did our best to comply with everything that we were aware of. Recently, the Govt of Goa has streamlined the regulations applicable to homestays like ours and this has also been a source of relief.
Given that we are away from the tourist belt, being able to get manpower resources is a challenge. We have been extremely fortunate to have a couple of locals with whom we have been working for a long time now. This is going to remain a challenge going forward as well.
What advice would you give to new aspiring homestay owners or people looking to make the transition?
I would hardly want to advise anyone other than saying that running a homestay is more difficult than it looks from the outside. The homestay owners also need to maintain equanimity at all times and most importantly remember to keep taking breaks now and then to recharge and renew.
Bennita, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been great talking to you. I’m sure our readers would love to visit your beautiful property and experience your hospitality. What is the best way for them to learn more about your property and make a booking?
Thank you very much for reaching out to me. The best way to reach us would be through our website: www.arcoiris.in