The pandemic is far from over. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a relaxing staycation with your loved ones. Travellers are looking for private villas and cottages in unexplored places. Vista Rooms caters to such travellers with their wide range of private villas and boutique holiday home rentals nestled in serene environs. The company is taking all the necessary steps to ensure a safe stay for guests. They have rolled out Vista Assurance, a one-of-its-kind COVID-19 insurance programme for long-term guests.
Under the programme, the brand will provide medical expense coverage of upto Rs 1 lakh per person or Rs 5 lakh per group if guests contract the infection during their stay at one of its properties.
Amit Damani, Co-Founder, Vista Rooms, talked to us about the company’s operations and experiences in the post-COVID world.
How is Vista Rooms ensuring safety for its guests?
Since our homes are at scenic locations, surrounded by nature, safety has always been of utmost importance. Earlier, the focus was more on environmental safety and having details of the nearest hospital, and doctors for any emergencies. In a post-COVID world, hygiene and social distancing have become as important, if not more. Fortunately, since homes are given exclusively to only one group, the complexities a hotel must face doesn't apply for us. There are still multiple ways to ensure safety by disinfecting and sanitising every home after checkouts, following an advanced atomised disinfection solution, and considerable time between check-ins. Additionally, there are masks to be worn by staff at all times and constant temperature records of our team.
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What has been your strategy to reopen villas across the country?
We manage over 500 properties across 25 plus cities in India. Our strategy has been to work with both local authorities and local communities, in order to build confidence that locals will be protected whenever any guests visit. Additionally, all our homes (and attached staff) have gone through a strict process of implementing new safety guidelines and training. Even today, only 60% of our homes have reopened as each locality has its restrictions and rules.
How did the pandemic impact your business? What was the response like after reopening?
We had to cancel all bookings post-March 20th to July 31. We were fortunate that almost all of our guests agreed to free rescheduling of their stays at any date in the next six months. While business came to a standstill until July, we have seen a tremendous surge in demand with occupancies at all reopened properties at 50% higher levels than before the lockdown. Villas have become the go-to method of living, for either for short trips or for longer ones (like a month or two) as one can now WFH from anywhere.
How have you adapted to the changing times? What have been the most significant challenges so far?
Over the past six months, our efforts have increased to continually train and monitor our team of local housekeeping staff in each region. With the acceptance of virtual communication apps like Zoom, Google Meet, we have scale training across geographies. We even run a Virtual Office with our team, organised in different rooms on Zoom, meeting rooms, and even a Hangout room to collaborate instantly. The biggest challenge has been spending time together as a team. The rapport and connect one built while working together in real time is difficult to create in a virtual environment, as most conversations end up being only work-related.
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Is Vista Rooms also providing staycation packages for people who work from home? If yes, could you please take us through the various packages available right now?
The most significant change in travel in the past six months has been the desire for families to spend more time at leisure destinations at driveable distances, preferably in a private villa. We have packages for guests that range for stays from 7 days to a month. What's included in their stay is high-speed WiFi, electricity, power back-up, fully-stocked kitchens with all appliances, and amenities to manage their laundry with a washing machine and dryer available on site. Along with that, we have OTT platforms available, and kid's play areas, and pools as well. We understand when a family books for an extended stay, they don't want to be away from their pets, and thus some of the properties have an arrangement for their furry friends. The purpose is to take care of all the needs, in order to be self-sufficient within the villa premises during their stay, including vegetable delivery to their doorstep.
What are some of the changes you have come across in the travel industry and how have consumer behaviour and expectations changed while choosing a stay?
There is a shift towards privacy and exclusivity. Villas and private apartments, which were considered alternative accommodation earlier, are now the travellers' primary accommodation choice. People are looking for a personal space that they don't have to share with anyone else, with all the amenities they need to be self-sufficient.
What advantage does a private villa has over a hotel or homestay? What makes a stay at a private villa special?
A villa is an exclusive space, typically given to one group, which adds to the privacy one gets over a hotel or homestay. Most villas have private lawn and pool areas. Additionally, they come serviced with the housekeeping staff and a cook to care for all your needs.
What are some of your best properties right now in terms of safety, overall facilities and scenic beauty?
Our properties are in stunning locations, overlooking lakes and the ocean, across the country. Properties that are near cities have been the most popular destinations. We have a property called The Hideout on a farm in Kurukshetra, roughly 3 hours from Delhi and an hour from Chandigarh. It’s been extremely popular for the view and amenities, as well as the dishes prepared with freshly sourced vegetables. Another popular property is Vista Neo which comes equipped with a private pool, a hot-tub jacuzzi, and a stunning view of waterfalls and hills.
How do you plan to attend to medical emergencies at your properties?
For each location, we have the contact of a local doctor and nearest hospital. Additionally, we have empanelled doctors who are available at any point for a tele-consultation. Each villa has at least one room that is not available for booking. This is primarily precautionary to ensure if any guest gets sick, he/she can use this room to self-quarantine. This would be an optional policy for the guests.
What is your strategy for the rest of the year? How do you look at the future of the hospitality industry?
Our focus is on continuously curating and selecting the finest holiday homes across India. We foresee our occupancy levels, across all properties, to be double as there is a clear shift in the hospitality industry across the world towards private homes, and we see ourselves as the largest network of boutique holiday home rentals. India is a country gifted with stunning natural beauty. We have embarked on a journey towards making India one of the world's best tourist destinations in the coming years, and the future looks promising.
How has consumer behaviour changed in the post-COVID world?
We have seen a complete transformation in tourists. Earlier they went for leisure trips with families and friends. During and post COVID, these trips are more about getting together and learning about the surroundings, and appreciating little things. We observed an interest in slow travel among tourists, they like to connect with nature, relaxing and watching the woodpeckers and squirrels. We will see more and more people opt for slow travel, I think.