How Nayana Gangooly built Nayana's Homestay, for those who want to take a break from the city to visit rural West Bengal
#homestay - Shantiniketan, West Bengal
YC - Tell us about your background - educational, personal & professional? Would also love to hear about your family?
Meet Nayana Gangooly - Owner of Chota Kothi, who wears many hats with great élan. She is an entrepreneur working towards promoting local textiles internationally. She conducts premium travel tours in Calcutta - http://www.explorecalcuttawithnayana.com/, a wine connoisseur and a member of the Calcutta Wine Club, and above all the gracious host behind this delightful off-beat homestay (from Condé Nast Traveller)
Her travel around the world and famed lineage (She is a direct descendant of Rabindranath Tagore ( Jorasanko) from her father's side, and from the Pathuriaghata Tagore"s from her mother) notwithstanding, she is much more than just an interesting host—she is an expert on the region, she is resourceful and well connected and makes herself available to answer questions, provide cultural and historical contexts, and guide the guests around. To ensure there is no expectation mismatch, she insists on speaking with every guest before making the booking. "I do not want them to come here and be disappointed. Chota Kothi is not a hotel, and it is important for her guests to know that." But people adapt well, "most are happy to make their own tea and fetch their own water, and that is what a homestay really means, isn't it?"
YC - What motivated you to start? Was there any turning point or incident in your life which led to your journey as an entrepreneur?
Nayana - She is, a 3rd generation Loreto House Calcutta Alumna. Grew up with a sound background of Calcutta"s multicultural, multi-ethnic and social demographic. Being a descendant of the Tagore family, she was exposed to" strong women ". Her grandmother, mother, we all spoke their minds:). English and Bengali were common parlances. Hindi was also spoken.
Travel and varied food habits were inculcated from a young age. Weekend car trips, trains, ( planes came much later ) were common. Visits to the zoo, museums, galleries and walks by the Hooghly River were a Sunday treat. Being from a certain socio-cultural background, Calcutta"‘s Club Culture was a given. However, in spite of all these activities, she grew up a rebel and could not wait to start earning and travelling solo. She began working while completing her college degree (BA in English (psychology and history were the other mains).
She backpacked and worked " illegally " around Europe right after college with little money but many friends along the way. ( since: 54 countries visited. Many, several times over). She returned to India and worked in Calcutta and Bangalore between 1988- 1994. Headed to London in 1994 - 1999. There she became ME. The best years of her life. Great experience, great exposure to International Art, Music, Culture. Became a bit of a lover of wine, French cheese and Single Malts.
Promoted and learnt in-depth about Indian Art, Craft and textiles. Worked for ARKS GALLERY, RITU and CIE in London. Frequented the Nehru Centre and the South Bank Galleries. Her friends were/are diverse and from every ethnocultural community possible. Travel continued to be a much-loved pursuit. However, Travel became a PRIMARY pursuit once she returned to India and began what was to be her first step towards being an entrepreneur.
She opened a small export company. She travelled to all corners of India sourcing ( some design input) handmade textiles directly from Craftspersons or NGOs supporting textile craft. She then travelled to different countries and hold what is now termed " pop up " sales of these products. A percentage of these sales went to different charities. This still remains her mainstay.
Nayana’s Homestay happened by default. Inherited Chota Kothi once her parents passed away. It was “just a house” for friends and family to visit. Great fun but difficult to maintain, particularly for an entrepreneur whose ideology was to work in development (Crafts) and not to create a bank balance. Inheriting a property is wonderful, maintaining it with no support system, not so wonderful.
2014, she decided to convert Chota Kothi into Nayana"s Homestay. Her partner, Shaubir Sen, helped her with the logistics briefly. He passed away in 2015. She has been single since. Strangely, the popularity of the Homestay was largely organic, word of mouth. She has never done any aggressive marketing. At all.
She was very keen that Chota Kothi was to remain primarily a HOME and a HOME AWAY FROM HOME for her guests. She has ONE househelp, MAKU who is Santhali from the neighbouring village of Phooldanga. She lives on the property with her now-grown children. She came to work here in 2002.
The other house help is ME. Nayana’s says she often clean the toilets and help Maku with the beds etc.
FOOD: Maku makes a super breakfast. Eggs, fruits, homemade jam etc. They do not normally offer other meals but have an option of a neighbourhood caterer for guests who have a vast repertoire. If hard-pressed by " returning guests" She will succumb and make a Pork Vindaloo.
YC - Starting something unique or creating a niche is always challenging, what challenges did you face in your early days?
Nayana - Challenges continue mainly maintenance of the house and property. They have a Bigha of Land. This land, being originally agricultural, was not really " cured" before it was converted to Vaastu land. Hence, structural changes are always taking place which affects the building. In spite of her being a rather " rustic homestay," certain standards of hygienic and comfort MUST be maintained. This is a huge and rather expensive challenge.
The other, rather bizarre challenge has been the term " HOMESTAY ". I'm afraid this nomenclature is often misused. Homestay gets very quickly translated into RESORT, HOTEL, NARAYAN HOTEL, OUTHOUSE, BED AND BREAKFAST, AIRB&B etc...unfortunately, the idea of a " hosted experience " in an individual home, remains uncomprehended by most who call for a booking.
Her motto: “Come as a Guest and leave as a Friend.” She would like both the guest/s and herself to have had a lovely experience.
Santiniketan and the Birbhum district is culturally rich and diverse. This should be the main asset for the discerning guest and this ideology is what I wish to promote. Also, more importantly, " take a breath, sit back, relax, chat, read a book, OR do nothing "
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?
Nayana - The social media partners I have already mentioned. The reviews on TripAdvisor have been a big asset. I post pictures etc on social media but that is how far the promotion goes.
I do not use any other booking platform. All bookings have to go through me personally. Rarely has a guest visited whom I've not had a telephonic conversation with. Wherever in the world, they are.
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?
Nayana - Sustainable tourism, today's buzzword. Keep it simple. Buy local. Eat local, fresh produce. Support local enterprise. Think global. Minimize use of power consumption. Try not to use " white light". Minimize plastic use. Plant trees. Keep your surroundings as natural as possible. Enjoy the environment. Do not defile it.
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?
Nayana - Covid 19 has definitely adversely impacted the travel/ tourism sector but the ugly head of " revenge tourism " has reared its head. Large groups of housebound hordes are making their way to every possible travel destination. Understandably.
Unfortunately for me, I'm very particular about whom I invite to Nayana's Homestay for reasons I have previously mentioned. This and the fact that I have only 2 bedrooms available for guests, makes it doubly difficult to have an income. Now, the " vaccinated" guests will get priority. I am also on a mission to get all support staff vaccinated too. Not easy in the districts.
YC - Based on your experience so far would you have any advice for new Entrepreneurs.
Nayana - My suggestion to fellow boutique homestay/ property owners:
Be selective. Enjoy the experience. Enjoy the environment.
I'm a " default " entrepreneur. Go for it if you have a passion. And particularly if you have deep pockets. For me, it was and has been, just passion
For Bookings, please get in touch with Nayana Gangooly +91 8335054096 +91 9830044096 or mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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