Offering premium villa getaway experience with privacy
StayVista Co-founder Ankita Sheth speaks on how the brand selects villas to list, the new trends and challenges, meeting guest expectations and the role of technology
The hospitality landscape in India has been changing in recent years, and in the wake of the pandemic, several new trends have emerged. One such trend is that of homestays. While homestays have long existed, before the pandemic struck, people preferred to stay in hotels. Now, the blend of workations and luxury villas is emerging so rapidly that even major hospitality brands are coming up with their own versions of homestays.
Catering to this segment is StayVista, which lists different boutique luxury homestays that guests can choose from for their vacation or workation. Since it was founded in 2015, the company, formerly known as Vista Rooms, has been on a mission to create a collection of the best luxury villas in India. “We are enabling group getaways with more than 500 handpicked holiday homes across over 50 destinations. We deliver memorable stays by curating one-of-a-kind experiences at our villas to go with top-notch hospitality services. Our core product is an exclusively managed stay experience within a four-hour drive/two-hour flying distance of big gateway cities in India,” says Co-founder Ankita Sheth when talking about the idea behind StayVista.
Selecting the villas
When it comes to adding more villas to its portfolio, the company aims to add only what it deems as the “best and the most beautiful” property. “We take a systematic and obsessive approach to vetting every single home and accept only the top five percent. We have several ways of categorising our villas. Based on features & amenities, we have private pool villas, heated jacuzzi villas and mountain-view villas. When it comes to the purpose of stay/group profile, our offerings include corporate offsite villas, pet-friendly villas and kid-friendly villas, and based on design, architecture or concept, we have heritage villas, palatial villas and contemporary villas,” she explains.
Explaining the criteria of selecting a new villa, she shares that the company has more than 300 parameters and most of the potential listings get filtered out at the remote screening stage. “After that, our experts visit each home in person and conduct an exhaustive audit, covering over 150 different criteria. Everything from a pool to parking to pillows is inspected and evaluated from the point of view of providing the perfect stay,” she shares, adding that during the evaluation they take into account aspects like safety, the quietness of the neighbourhood, maintenance of the house, the communal space setup, design, shower pressure, WiFi as well as quality of linens before discussing onboarding with the homeowner,” shares Sheth.
Standardisation of service
Many of the villas listed with StayVista were built, furnished and decorated for living and never for hosting. “The hosts themselves have their own set of beliefs and sensibilities. And yet, standardisation of experience without losing uniqueness is something we always pride ourselves on. We don’t list homes for booking until it is ready to fulfill our criterion for providing the perfect stay. There have been several cases where we’ve assisted the owner in home renovation, landscaping, lighting and security to bring the quality of the stay up to the mark,” she explains.
Elaborating further on the processes and the backend of the functions of these villas, Sheth says that usually, each villa has two trained caretakers stationed, along with a dedicated Stay Experience Manager. “They ensure that every stay goes as planned and all the expectations of the guests are met. From the way the beds are made to the contents of the fridge, from brand touchpoints like our signages and toiletries to well-groomed, uniformed staff and our special butler service, we have standardised our offerings through clearly defined SOPs and thorough training,” she adds.
Moreover, StayVista has also partnered with professional catering services such as LifeCo, Clover and Kitchens to deliver a consistent gastronomical experience based on the guests’ preferences.
What can guests expect?
Just like any vacation, guests have high expectations from their place of stay. For them, StayVista’s offering is clear - a premium villa getaway experience with privacy. “Our guests come to stay with us to celebrate their personal milestones such as birthdays and anniversaries. Sometimes, it’s a reunion of friends or a corporate off-site. Each stay gives us an opportunity to elevate the holiday experience. For example, we routinely plan elaborate set-ups, special sit-down dinners for anniversaries, live music and karaoke for reunions, bonfires and barbecues for offsites. Not only does this set us apart, it only reinforces our identity as a top hospitality brand that focuses on personalisation and attention to detail,” Sheth explains.
Trends and challenges
In the post-COVID world, the way people travel has changed immensely. In recent times, StayVista has noticed two trends - revenge travel and rise of group getaways. “Private getaways were ideal for folks who were unwilling to risk traveling through crowded airports and staying in crowded hotels. We saw a surge in bookings due to this phenomenon in 2021. Meanwhile, despite the economic downturn, we’re still seeing a considerable number of inquiries for small and large group inquiries. Family reunions and friendcations are gaining popularity, as people try to make up for the lost time. Wellness trips and group travel by women are also on the rise,” she avers.
However, there are challenges that come with managing home and villa stays. “The uniqueness of every villa presents big challenges for us operationally. Most villas we encounter are never designed from the point of view of hosting guests commercially. They are usually built and set up to be second homes. Sometimes, homes require extensive restructuring to bring the infrastructure of the property up to the mark. We routinely undertake these tasks, but they present huge challenges before a villa goes live on our platform. Moreover, the unique nature of every villa makes it difficult for us to standardise the training of our caretakers and Stay Experience Managers across the board. Our training team often quips that it often ends up conducting 500 different training sessions on subjects such as safety, communication and hygiene,” she shares.
Role of technology
Technology plays a big role for StayVista in streamlining the booking journey and stay experience of the guest. “Pretty much the entire customer journey has been automated with the help of software tools and service providers, saving human intervention for the most important touchpoints. From the moment a customer lands on our platform to the moment they check out, we have technology helping us deliver a premium experience. It’s not just the guests, even our partners (hosts) have tech-enabled solutions to manage stays better. We have a partner app, through which they can track everything from guest bookings to the revenue they’ve clocked,” she says.
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