How Luca Borella built Killa Bhawan, A unique stay in the fortress of Jaisalmer
#boutiquehomestay - On Fort, 445 Kotri Para, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan 345001 - Book on RARE India
YC - Tell us about your background - educational, personal & professional? Would also love to hear about your family?
Luca - I was born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1952, after succeeding in my 12th grade, I studied Law for 2 years (without a degree). After a trip of 6 months, driving, till Kathmandu, through Turkey, Syria, Irak, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, I opted for art and went to Rome at the Fine Art Academy and got a stage designer Bachelor degree.
I kept travelling East and lived few years in Indonesia, Bali, after touring all the countries of South-East Asia. That is when I started an antique textiles business and then turned to fashion textiles. For the next 30 years, I created my brand of fashion accessories - Idea Plus, based in Paris.
India being the mother country of textiles, I naturally started to explore the country for all the diversity of textiles. With an office in Delhi as business was expanding, I came one day, in 1989, across Jaisalmer, famous also for its woollen tie-dye. I just fell in love with the city.
In the meantime, I got married in 1996 to a French lady, a widow with 2 children and we had a third child together. Happily together since then.
YC - What motivated you to become an entrepreneur – especially as a hotelier?
Luca - As said, I fell in love with Jaisalmer and decided to have a house there that I eventually found in one of the bastions of the fort in 1995. Not being all the time in Jaisalmer and India due to my business, in 1998 I turned it first into a modest guest house that in the following year was expanded to reach today the status of the Best Heritage Hotel in Jaisalmer - Jaisalmer Heritage Hotel Killa Bhawan!
Two partners joined the project, and, to be highlighted, I met with an incredible family in Jaisalmer that helped me tremendously and we could together go ahead and achieve the success we have today.
YC - Starting something unique or creating a niche is always challenging, what challenges did you face in your early days?
Luca - Being in the fort, a unique heritage monument, I could not do any major alterations to the building; I had to follow the style of the place and faced many hurdles from local authorities. But we managed to create a unique hotel, with few rooms, respecting the heritage guidelines.
YC - As a founder what primary functions are you responsible for, basically how typically you spend your day in the office?
Luca - I am the executive director of Killa Bhawan Resorts Pvt. Ltd. and when in the city, I go every day to the premises to meet the guests and attend the office work of bookings, maintenance, supply, etc. I am not all the time present in Jaisalmer, so the family I work with run the place and its sister concerns, perfectly and efficiently. Then, of course, I do all the follow-ups thanks to the internet from wherever I am, created the site and social media pages and follow up, bookings, etc.
YC - Do you use social media platforms (like Instagram, Facebook etc) to promote your boutique homestay? Which channels have been very effective for your business?
Luca - Yes, we are on Facebook, not Instagram at the moment. Facebook has been a good platform to be appreciated and followed.
YC - What are your views on personally managed travel partners like RARE India and others OTA’s like AirBnB, Makemytrip.com, Booking.com etc?
Luca - We are fresh members with RARE and started to be with them at the time of Pandemic so no important results yet. But long time friend with Shoba, I knew her work and potential and I think they are the best to promote heritage properties and sustainable policies. We do work consistently with Booking.com and happy to do so. Airbnb is not essential in Jaisalmer for hotels, but I have listed my house (an old restored haveli in the old city) with them. We do not work with Makemytrip but a little bit with Agoda.
YC - How do you manage expenses, typically what percentage do you allocate for marketing & sales, day to day operations and property renovations and enhancements?
Luca - Being a small property (8 rooms) and thanks to our long reputation of excellence, we do not need to spend so much on the advertisement. Some are done on Facebook and now with RARE. But I did spend on creating a new site, maintaining it to push sales. We also work quite well with Indian travel agencies. Every year maintenance costs are there and I am always looking for ways to expand the property.
YC - Our readers would love to know the best time during the year to visit your homestay and why?
Luca - The best periods to enjoy the best possible weather (not too cold and not too hot) are November and from mid-February till the end of March. But then, from October through March, is a good time to visit Jaisalmer and the Thar desert. July and August are also nice as the monsoon is weak in the desert, hence no risk of heavy rains.
YC - A memorable trip is a combination of a great stay + lip-smacking food and unique experiences - what are the unique experiences around your area which travellers must explore?
Luca -The Rajasthani food is delightful and especially the desert food. One of the major attraction of Jaisalmer, apart from the Fort and the old city, are the safaris in the desert. A unique experience to travel on a camel and sleep under the stars with a bone fire and local musicians to entertain the guests.
YC - How is your hotel attractive to Indian domestic travellers and what are the interest points for foreign travellers?
Luca - For both categories, to be within the fort, in a heritage building, decorated in a historic fashion, gives a feeling of the past: to live like the Maharajas of ancient times. Then, being in the fort, guests are near all the major interesting and touristic attractions and with a spectacular view of the old city, which is at 5 minutes walk.
YC - Industry experts these days are talking a lot about sustainable and regenerative travel, what are your views on it and how are you contributing to the same?
Luca - Thanks to RARE, we are more aware of sustainable and preservations policies. But from the beginning of our adventure, we did respect the heritage history of the fort, promoted some conservation projects within the fort, pushed for limited water consumption and worked exclusively with local artisans, builders and suppliers.
YC - COVID 19 has immensely affected the tourism sector, how are you coping with it and what would you suggest to your fellow boutique homestay owners?
Luca - We did suffer a lot because of COVID 19 as we had to close our properties twice and are still closed today. We barely managed to receive guests for few months last winter, so it has been financially very stressful. I will just say to my fellow boutique homestay owners to hold any way they can as better times will come again. India is just starting to develop its tourism industry and the potential is enormous and tourists are looking more and more for heritage and eco-friendly properties.
YC -Based on your experience so far would you have any advice for new Entrepreneurs.
To look for opportunities with energy and patience!!! Nothing is impossible and a lot has still to be done in India tourism wise.
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