How Ratika’s passion and knowledge of eco-tourism led to the recognition of Svasara Jungle Lodge @ Tadoba as one of the most inspirational eco-lodges in the country

#glamping - Near Kolara Gate, Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, Chimur - Maharashtra

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

Ratika - “The property is owned by my family, my bade papa/uncle (Late Mr. Satyadeva Prakash Sinha), was an avid wildlifer and a keen photographer. He was the one who first conceptualised Svasara.”

I have a Master's degree in Hotel Administration (MHA) from Lausanne Hotel School (Switzerland). After graduation, I had spearheaded the successful diversification for BHL, owner of 5-Star City Hotel  (Maurya-Patna) to Jungle Eco-Lodge (Svasara-Tadoba). My passion for sustainability was first kindled, when I was pursuing my Bachelor’s degree in Fairfax, USA. My area of concentration was Tourism, and I was blessed to have studied under Professor Dr. David Weaver, who is one of the leading eco-tourism experts. Grateful that I could pursue my passion through my work. Svasara Jungle Lodge remains one of the most inspirational eco-lodges in the country and has been awarded the “Outstanding TOFT (Tour Operators for Tigers) Sustainability Certification.”

YC - Could you please share with our readers what is your current team size and their roles?

Ratika - We are about twenty team members at Svasara. Mostly at the camp in operational roles. I oversee marketing, finance, property upgrades, and new projects, so more in a corporate role. The operations team is led by our general manager, Ranjit and lodge manager, Nandita. For any jungle lodge, naturalists play an integral role in the nature experience, currently owing to the pandemic, we have a smaller team with two full-time resident naturalists and three naturalists available on call as required. The rest of the team is local from neighbouring villages and assist in various roles like kitchen, housekeeping, service, maintenance, landscaping etc. 

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

Ratika - As mentioned above, I am responsible for the overall business, including P&L performance, finance, marketing, property upgrades, guest feedback assessment, and future growth (new projects). Currently, I am working from home in Gurgaon, I visit the property once a month and travel to other project sites as required. Travel of course has been very restrictive over the last year. At home, because work is mostly on the computer/online, I am able to fulfil my responsibilities easily. No day is typical! As my six-year daughter requires my flexibility. 

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?

Ratika - We are active only on Instagram and Facebook currently, as we manage our social media presence internally. Our engagement is pretty satisfactory across these two platforms. The good reviews on Tripadvisor have also helped us with organic booking queries. Unfortunately, due to lack of bandwidth, we haven’t leveraged the rest of the social media platforms, at the levels we could. Hopefully, we will explore them soon!

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

Ratika - We have significant repeat business including international guests returning year on year. The biggest credit goes to our team, who have been true brand ambassadors for the values and ethos Svasara represents. They have also been instrumental in ensuring that we provide a personal touch to each of our visitors. The property itself, with its prime location, the rustic setting, the local team, make our guests feel at home and very connected to nature as well as the destination they are visiting. In addition to the service, the immersive nature experience, our unique authentic local & regional cuisine experiences have also helped in curating memorable stays. 

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

Ratika - In the initial days (we opened to guests in 2011), the bigger challenge was to promote “Tadoba” as a destination. People were hardly aware of this really special national park then. So, our marketing efforts were to highlight Tadoba as a destination, its advantages compared to the other mainstream wildlife destinations in India. As, we were a new brand in wildlife tourism, being enrolled as a Rare India property, we actually got a boost to our credibility right away, as they were known for their very selective process of onboarding boutique properties in their portfolio. So, our initial travel partner relationships were nurtured in tandem with the amazing Rare team. Over the years, of course, our own credibility has become more established, and Tadoba has become an extremely popular wildlife destination, hence promoting the property has become much easier. We do not have any experience working with Airbnb or Booking.com etc. hence, cannot share any insights.

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

Ratika - It has been very very challenging, especially because of our location in the state of Maharashtra, the lockdowns have affected us deeply over the last year and continuing at the moment. We have tried to streamline our expenses so that we are able to tide over the non-operational period. We have an immense responsibility towards the team, and our main effort is to be able to support all of them. Suggestions for our fellow boutique operators would be:

  • Review every financial aspect of the business

  • If any changes can help reduce the fixed costs month on month, that would help lower the stressful financial burdens.

We also believe that right now everyone’s focus should be more humanitarian than anything else. The worst is hopefully behind us, and we just have to be patient and deeply believe that things will improve, soon! It’s also good to remind ourselves that our guests are as eager to return to our beautiful homes/hotels just like us.

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

Ratika - As a percentage of revenue, day-to-day operations would be about 60%, renewals/upgrades 4-5%, and marketing about 1-2%. Our word-of-mouth marketing has been a great blessing! 

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

Ratika -

“More than passion, discover your personal “purpose” in life, and if your business helps fulfil that, both the business and you as an entrepreneur will be on a positive track solving some genuine problems of the world. “

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