How Vaibhav built an Award-Winning Activotel - Atali Ganga
Atali Dogi, Milestone 30, Badrinath Road, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India. Book On RARE India
YC - Tell us about your background - educational, personal & professional? Would also love to hear about your family?
Vaibhav - My father was in the Army. So, I was schooled across India. I graduated from St.Stephen’s College, Delhi in 1992. I was a very active member of the St.Stephen’s Hiking Club and that was where I honed my interest in adventure sports. I’ve been a professional river guide since 1992 and have trekked and travelled extensively in the Indian Himalayas since 1985 (in Garhwal and Kumaon, Zanskar, Nubra, Ladakh, Changthang, Lahaul and Spiti, Kinnaur and Arunachal Pradesh). I’ve also been involved in a number of high-altitude exploratory mountain trips and major raft descents and expeditions.
YC - What motivated you to become an entrepreneur – especially as a hotelier?
Vaibhav - The main motivation was a greenfield cottage industry, where plenty could be done. Adventure travel was a narrow field, mostly inbound, and the potential was huge and possibilities many! Since 1995 to 2012, we became pioneers in many adventure products, mobile expeditions etc, before we launched our first activity lodge, an activotel- Atali. The main idea behind it was the Aquaterra expertise plugging into smart hospitality.
Be it an Eskimo rolling a kayak, climbing up a steep wall face, camping out with your kids, identifying different birds of the tropical Indian forests, stretching a bit with some early morning yoga, mountain biking through a jungle, hiking in the Lower Himalaya and rafting down India's sin-cleansing holy corridor of exciting white water, or relaxing at the spa; Atali Ganga is a one-of-a-kind 'activotel'.
In-house climbing walls for adults & kids, a challenging high ropes course on the property, swimming pool, two-cuisine dinners, kids camping grounds and indoor playroom, conference facilities and easy lounging areas add to the options available. 22 AC single and duplex family cottages spread amidst over 250 trees, overlooking the Ganges, offers India's premier active getaway.
YC - Starting something unique or creating a niche is always challenging, what challenges did you face in your early days?
Vaibhav - Lack of awareness of our products and the perception that such travel 'may' not be safe has been the two predominant ones on the marketing front. Logistics like import of equipment, restrictions that were only lifted in the last decade and training capable staff were the rest. Reaching out constantly and consistently, making sure the media was involved, trips were written about, the best hands in the industry were with us and ensuring our range of trips continued to grow, kept us ahead of the game.
YC - As a founder what primary functions are you responsible for, basically how do you typically spend your day in the office?
Vaibhav -I look after the main role of the promoter, planning for new products, regions, trips, new activities; I also guide many of our trips, so I find a lot to do on the front line as well, leading treks, climbs or river expeditions. A typical day is an 08:00-18:00 day, usually after a game of squash or a run; meetings are planned well in advance, I like to plan my week ahead!
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?
Vaibhav -Yes, all have been effective in getting our products and information out. We find our videos to be very effective.
YC - What are your views on personally managed travel partners like RARE India and others OTA’s like AirBnB, Makemytrip.com, Booking.com etc?
Vaibhav - These platforms are great force multipliers besides the main entity handles, to reach out at different fore, guest demographics and suppliers, who may never get to know of the products we develop and offer. Their reach is huge, and we value to reach.
YC - How do you manage expenses, typically what percentage do you allocate for marketing & sales, day to day operations and property renovations and enhancements?
Vaibhav -It planned ahead, prioritized and put into a timeline and deliveries are detailed to avoid delays and escalation in costs. They are planned on a need-to basis, and during off-seasons for the full year, the percentage depends really on the type of work to be finished.
YC - Our readers would love to know the best time during the year to visit your homestay and why?
Late September to mid-April is the prime time!!
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?
Vaibhav - Besides the activities mentioned above, there are some unique experiences like:
Evening arti that can be custom built by the Ganga river.
A great hike-bike-paddle day out
Stand up paddle
Visits to Devprayag the birthing of the Ganga
A walk on the left bank at Rishikesh or
A visit to the Beatles ashram, make it a grand experience
YC - How is your hotel attractive to Indian domestic travellers and what are the interest points for foreign travellers?
Vaibhav - All of the above…great views of the river, unhindered access to wilderness all around, we have no neighbourhood except reserved forest; very private, no neighbouring congestion, and unique activities make it a lovely Rishikesh experience
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?
Vaibhav - Our property was built in 2010 with all sustainable practices – no to single-use plastic, recycled treatment of all waste, no packaged soaps – so we had planned this well before the bandwagon started.
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?
Vaibhav - We have been preparing during the 2020 lockdown with new practices for when things would open, so got a head start when things opened up in July 2020. We explained to the team and trained on SOPs, kept the team safe and went right back into the fall season in full swing. Well prepared is half done, we would say.
YC - Based on your experience so far would you have any advice for new Entrepreneurs.
Hold steady, stay the course and keep plodding!
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Watch - 25 year journey :