How Bhupendra Singh built Premkunj and won The Tripadvisor Travellers' Choice Best of The Best Award for 2021
#boutiquehomestay - House No.1, Village Upli Badi, Udaipur - Rajasthan
YC - What is your background? What motivated you to start and what is it all about?
Bhupendra Singh - I come from a Rajput family with an ancestral Fort, a part of which is now a heritage hotel. Tourism always attracted me and was my true calling, I started my career as a Tour Manager with an internationally renowned organisation in the trade. I am a people’s person and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting new guests on every tour and making new friends. While touring the globe and interacting with new people all the time, I harboured a dream of someday opening a small cosy place of my own where I would live and host people from around the world. The idea was to create a homestay that would become self-sufficient, drawing its resources from the local community and giving back to the same community - in other words, a place that would be built on the premise of sustainable tourism. After fifteen long years of saving up, scouting for just the right plot of land and collecting artefacts all along, I chanced upon this serene nook in the foothills of Sajjangarh Wildlife Reserve near Udaipur and something within me called out to the land and I knew that this is where my Hammock In The Mountains would be built. That was the beginning, and now after one and a half years of serving guests, and a trip advisor “Best of The Best” recognition later, here we are! We have made it to the much-coveted list of Top 25 small hotels of India on Trip Advisor - The link: https://www.tripadvisor.in/TravelersChoice-Hotels-cSmall-g293860
YC - Could you please share with our readers what is your current team size and their roles?
Bhupendra Singh - Premkunj is a boutique homestay, and is run with feelings from the heart! The team here comprises 12 members, the 13th being me, and all the members are from around the location, trained on the job. Except for our chef, the rest of the roles are not assigned, we all do every little thing that adds up to the whole experience for our guests. The team came as absolutely raw, untrained men and women and were trained here by the family. Being a homestay, we wanted guest experiences to be very personalised and warm and the team was accordingly instructed to take care of every guest like how they would take care of their own personal guests - “Atithi Devo Bhava” concept.
The food at Premkunj is prepared as per guests’ choice and with locally sourced ingredients. The flavours are authentic, just like a homemade meal. At Premkunj we not only employ a team from around here but also try to source is as much of our requirements as possible from the villagers, thus trying to give back to the village that is our cradle.
YC - As a founder what primary functions are you responsible for, basically how typically you spend your day in the office?
Bhupendra Singh - I live on the premises and am up with the first ray of the sun. Right from overseeing the cleanliness and upkeep to having the breakfast prepared and served and to interacting with the guests - everything makes up my mornings. I personally take my guests for the morning treks to the hills nearby or to the village lake for a sunrise and tea experience. I spend a brief time in the office. I personally procure the best and freshest of supplies from, as far as possible, from the village. This also gives me an opportunity to exchange greetings with the village elders whom I meet on my way to and fro. A regular day for me involves all of this and of course, the best part of the day is meeting my guests over evening tea or dinner, sharing our stories and ensuring they have a memorable stay. At Premkunj, the activities that we promote with our guests also include a tree plantation drive, so far we have planted close to a thousand plants in and around Premkunj and the village and we aim to plant at least ten thousand more fruit and flower trees that belong to the local flora.
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?
Bhupendra Singh - We have our presence on Facebook and Instagram and for us, both these channels have been effective marketing tools. But Premkunj gets more repeat guests and word of mouth so far has been the best marketing tool for us. Guest testimonials and feedback, have helped us get more clients.
YC - What according to you is the USP of your boutique homestay, for which your customers come back to you?
Bhupendra Singh - Our USP is our location, in the foothills of Sajjangarh Wildlife Reserve in the Aravalis, the only noise one hears here is the chirping of birds and the rustling of leaves. For those seeking calm and peace and memorable moments with family and friends, we rank as the first choice. The nature treks, village walks, local interactions are some of the other popular activities with our guests. An experience of a-chance sighting of a Panther lazing on a rock behind Premkunj is something that a few lucky guests carry home with them. Besides this, we are an intensively nature-driven homestay and encourage our guests to partake in tree plantation drives from time to time. We are at a convenient 15 minutes drive from Udaipur City centre - not too far, yet not too close.
YC - Can you elaborate on the challenges you faced in promoting your boutique homestay? What are your views on platforms like Airbnb, Booking.com etc?
Bhupendra Singh - A stand-alone property with a small inventory definitely requires a kickstart and boost to make its presence felt. We were lucky enough to have been patronised by a lot of guests who searched and found us for a secluded holiday. Word went around and we started getting repeat guests.
An association with a known and reputed platform helps in getting a wider audience and guidance in various nuances of the trade, hence an association with RAREIndia was forged. We also advocate sustainable tourism and to substantially make a difference on that front, we required support and guidance which now RAREIndia is expertly providing.
YC - How are you coping with COVID 19, what would you suggest to your fellow boutique homestay owners?
Bhupendra Singh - Tough times indeed, but we believe in sunrise and a tomorrow. This too shall pass but what matters right now is, how firmly you stand with those who supported you. Our team lives on the premises and whatever little savings we had made from a fabulous first year of soaring business, is now being shared among all of us. Each one holds an oar and rows the boat forward. We are sure, these times won’t last long but the bond that we have built during this time will last a lifetime.
The local community matters the most to us, and in our own little way, with the resources available, we tried helping the people around here by trying to arrange for oxygen cylinders, medicines, and arranging for hospital beds wherever required and possible. Wherever we could, we tried to assist a few monetarily as well. Most importantly, we have been educating the local villagers on the benefits of getting vaccinated and have been persuading and convincing them to get their shots as early as they could get.
These are tough times but we have not stopped communicating with our guests and followers on social media. We are regular with our marketing efforts, albeit a bit tighter on the budget.
YC - How do you manage expenses, typically what percentage do you allocate for marketing & sales, day to day operations and property renovations and enhancements?
Bhupendra Singh - I do not go by the formulae that are taught in B-schools, I allocate the budgets as per the requirements. But yes, I make a conscious effort of re-investing a little percentage each month into the property and the surroundings, in the form of upkeep, maintenance and new additions. Day-to-day operations too are not calculated in terms of mathematical formulae as I believe that once you start getting into the traps of OPEX and CAPEX, you tend to get drawn to cost-cutting measures and somewhere quality of either food/beverages or services start dropping. I do not want to compromise on the quality I serve here and want each guest to make beautiful and fulfilling memories.
YC - Based on your experience so far would you have any advice for new Entrepreneurs.
Bhupendra Singh -
“Dream, believe and keep moving forward, one step at a time.