How Digvijay Sinh Kathiwada restored his19th-century royal mansion into a grandeur boutique homestay @Kathiwada Raaj Mahal

# boutiquehomestay - Raaj Mahal Kathiwada, 1, Palace Road, Kathiwara, Madhya Pradesh 457885

YC - What is your background? What motivated you to start and what is it all about?

Digvijay - An urban planner by education, with varied interests in the fields of art, culture, and philanthropy. The key motivator was to restore our mansion to its former glory which has been in neglect for over 2 decades. Once that was done, it was time to create employment, attract mindful and sustainable tourism which we have done successfully since 2015. The next steps are to create a more coherent and integrated community around the mansion property by expanding the vision in terms of infrastructure and supporting the local lives but staying true to its rich biodiversity.

YC - Could you please share with our readers about your core team and their roles:

Digvijay -

  1. What is the current Team Size - 28 people

  2. Team Roles - Operations & Sales. Very broad question for a boutique hotel. A typical boutique heritage homestay. So all the basics from kitchen staff, security, gardeners, hospitality staff, and sales & marketing team in Mumbai.

YC - As a founder what primary functions are you responsible for, basically how typically you spend your day in the office? 

Digvijay - This is a professionally managed property. Having a strong in-house team on the ground for operations, partnering with the right sales and marketing agencies for boutique hotels to maintain a certain pedigree of crowd, and having a centralized finance team in Mumbai which also manages all our other ventures.

YC - Have you used social media platforms to promote your boutique homestay? Which channels have been very effective for your business? Which marketing channels have been super flops for your business? 

Digvijay - Not very effectively. Instagram does help and is the only real tool but we rely on our like-minded marketing firms to do the bulk of the speaking on our behalf as they truly understand the sensibility of the space so as to attract the right people.

YC - What according to you is the USP of your boutique homestay, for which your customers come back to you?

Digvijay - Our location is very unique. At the border of Gujarat and MP but on the MP side. The flat valley is extremely gorgeous with rolling hills on all sides and rich cultural heritage of over 700 years is something to absorb when you are there. The overall peace and serenity are breathtaking.

YC - Can you elaborate on the challenges you faced in promoting your boutique homestay? What are your views on platforms like Airbnb, RareIndia, etc.?

Digvijay - Rare India is exceptional. They work closely with you and have a strong team that exudes their vision of sustainable tourism which is honestly, the only way forward. Clearly, they have filled a market gap and done it well. Airbnb may not drive as much traffic to you unless you are in close proximity to a city, but the listing is no harm done as long as you list details and are very clear about your offerings. In today’s digital world, one needs to have an online presence. Though, we listed on Airbnb we are not very active and don’t expect many bookings or inquiries through this channel.

YC - How are you coping with COVID 19, what would you suggest to your fellow boutique homestay owners?

Digvijay - We pivoted to allow only a full group to book half or full mansion with no two groups overlapping at any single time. As ours is not a hyper commercial project we had the liberty to take some harsh revenue decisions which may not be the most advisable route for others. Stay strong, keep costs tight, this too shall pass. It’s only a matter of time. However:

  • Full family vacations

  • Discounts on extended nights

  • Long-term rentals

  • And create a place for your guests to work and live on your property for 7-10 days or longer.

YC - How do you manage expenses, typically what percentage do you allocate for marketing & sales, day-to-day operations, and property renovations and enhancements?

Digvijay - Again, not the right advice to be given as profitability is not the mantra at our homestay. We do it for love, passion and to keep our property in good health. But from my past analysis, I would recommend allotting 25% of revenue towards marketing of all kinds including commissions. That’s on the higher side, hustle where you can and bring it down but new properties may not be able to do much better than that. Property renovations all depend on the age of the property, its current condition, and what not but 5-7% and no more should be an ideal number for heritage properties.

YC - Based on your experience so far would you have any advice for new Entrepreneurs.

Digvijay - Keep your staff nimble, everyone should multi-task. Have a few specialists of course but others must be all-rounders. Be patient, it takes 3 years to build up your property within marketing circles. Pick a good agency like RARE India to handhold you through the process. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” ask people for help as a first-timer it’s ok to be vulnerable. Be prepared with a budget for 3 years so you don’t scramble for funds later. You will not get operations right in the first year, don’t worry, allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them and correct them. Talk about failure and success openly on social media if you’re on it, people like authenticity.

Don’t try to be a Taj, Oberoi, or 5-Star, you are not. You are you, be authentic, stay sincere to your product.

Make sure your website and PDF have all the correct content at all times with all your house rules, timings to F&B, tariff, etc. Your expectations will not match reality, not in revenue, not in operations, but you will learn from the process and you will eventually get closer to the targets so don’t lose hope just keep getting better. Above all, treat your guests and staff equally with grace and dignity, the quality of your service will automatically follow.

Would also like to share the amazing restoration before/after video of “ Kathiwada Raaj Mahal” - ….It’s a MUST watch!

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