How Varun used his connoisseur's eye to turn his family's languishing vacation home in Haridwar into a boutique homestay - Amrit Bhawan

#homestay - Mayapur, Haridwar, Uttarakhand 249401

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

Varun - I hail from a business family but am trained as an architect. I pivoted towards real estate finance and hospitality a few years after my graduation. Amrit Bhawan was a family vacation home that was lying in disrepair and brimming with possibilities. We decided to extend its life and convert it into something beautiful and useful. Amrit Bhawan is now a plush 8 bed-room boutique retreat with a private ghat by the Ganga. I established Ekat Travel & Lodging as an entity to manage Amrit Bhawan’s operations, but it has evolved to be much more. Ekat creates and manages thoughtful experiences for the modern traveler and lodger. We hope to do great things with Ekat in the near future.

YC- Could you please share with our readers about your core team and their roles :

Varun -

  1. What is the current Team Size - 12 people

  2. Team Roles - Project Manager (at the HQ); Site Engineer, Property Manager, Hospitality Staff (at the property)

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

Varun - As the founder and managing partner, I need to make sure Amrit Bhawan is delivering on its promise to its guests, as well as ensure very efficient operations at the property. I also need to work on new projects to take Ekat to the next level. Cliché as it sounds, there is no typical day. I usually work out of our head office in NOIDA and like to start my day with a meeting or phone call with the project manager and property manager to understand their agendas for the day or week. I also take a daily update on the guests at the property and constantly discuss how we can make their experience better. I often travel for work and there is no concept of weekdays and weekends because, in hospitality, there are no breaks. 

YC- Have you used social media platforms to promote your products or services? Which channels have been very effective for your business? Which marketing channels have been super flops for your business?

Varun - Yes, Instagram and FB marketing are absolutely crucial. We have seen a good response when the advertisement content and audience selection are right. It takes some trial and error to find out what works. Tying up with travel agents who ‘market’ the property on social media has not been very useful – we have not secured many bookings that way. I think it’s best to control your own content and present your property in its own authentic way.

“Having a good Instagram page and website is key, at least in boutique hospitality.”

YC- What according to you is the USP of your product or service, for which your customers come back to you? 

Varun - Amrit Bhawan is unique in that it has a large private garden and ghat by the Ganga, in the historic neighborhood of Kankhal (Haridwar), perfect for quiet reflection. It is housed in a 50-year-old restored art deco building that is retro-fitted with all modern amenities – a delicate balance between contemporary style and old-world charm. With an intimate 8 guest room setup all our guests receive personalized attention; the size makes it great for small groups and family gatherings as well (we can accommodate up to 20 people). What is evident from guest reviews is that they really appreciate the personalized service and the homestyle local cuisine. 

Through Ekat, we also offer a variety of bespoke experiences to explore Haridwar in a unique way, which makes it interesting not just for the pilgrim but for the curious traveler as well as the adventure seeker.

YC- Can you elaborate on the challenges you faced in promoting your business?

Varun - The biggest challenge has been the lockdown and restrictions due to Covid-19. This majorly affected tourism to places like Haridwar, which are usually considered crowded. We depend majorly on word-of-mouth publicity which is a slow process in any case, but we are in this for the long haul. We are sure things will improve soon, especially once foreign inbound travel resumes. 

YC- Do you use any tools or software to manage your business? Is there any problem in your day-to-day operations which you wish could be solved with the help of software? 

Varun - We use the following software which makes our jobs easier:

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

Varun - The biggest learning for me has been the importance of working hard towards an end goal and not letting small setbacks derail one from one’s path. One needs a lot of patience and grit to see projects through, especially in real estate and hospitality which are capital intensive and time-consuming businesses. Also, it helps to be conservative about costs and risks – as they say,

“Measure twice, cut once. “