EDII Alumni Speak-up Series 7#: A Backwaters Indian Homestay Experience by Preethy Thomas (Karithanam Ayur Farms)

Preethy Thomas (PGDBEM 2006-2007)

Karithanam Ayur Farms

Her infectious exuberance can instantly put a smile on anyone’s face. Her response to a customary ‘hello’ is a spirited, full of energy, ear-to-ear smile. No wonder, one connects instantly with Preethy. We were provoked to ask her, “How is it that you are always so full of life?’ Her response was, “My father had a transferrable job. Just when I would begin to settle at a place, my father would get transferred and within a few days, I would find myself in a new school, among new people, trying to make friends. I think that trait has remained with me. I love to meet people, so much so that my father even lightly mentioned during my growing up years that I must get into the hospitality business. Somewhere, that light comment by my father had a deep impact on me and I actually began nurturing the dream of a career in the hospitality business.”

During her final year at school, Preethy applied for a three-year Hotel Management Programme at the Institute of Hotel Management Catering Technology & Applied Nutrition (IHMCT&AN), run and managed by the Ministry of Tourism. Preethy finally secured admission in the Institute of Hotel Management (IHM), Hyderabad during the year 2002.

After three years of professional education along with rigorous training, she graduated in 2005 and took up a job as the Front Office Associate in the ITC Hotel Group at ITC Grand Central, a five-star deluxe business hotel located at Parel, Mumbai. She proved herself and in three months, was promoted to their Executive Lounge to receive VIP guests of the hotel. But, Preethy wasn’t content and started preparation for Common Admission Test as well as other management exams for further studies. It was her father who introduced entrepreneurship in hospitality to her and suggested EDII to pursue training in the area. This caught Preethy’s fancy and after clearing the tests, she enrolled for the Institute’s Post Graduate Diploma in Business Entrepreneurship and Management (PGDBEM) programme.”

Preethy added: “EDII offers an inspiring environment to have something of your own. I still remember we had a lot of case study exercises and exciting field visits for a comprehensive learning experience in entrepreneurship. I opted for Services Management. EDII put my entrepreneurship plans in perspective. I knew I was thinking right.”

After completing PGDBEM and after gaining work experience for a while, Preethy decided to implement her project on homestay business. Her project report at EDII was also on homestay business. She shifted to Kerala where she decided to use her father’s ancestral house as her homestay business idea. “And very soon, Karithanam Ayur Farms Homestay (Karithanam Homestay) was born,” beams Preethy.

Homestay is a form of tourism that allows a visitor to rent a room from a local family in a homelike setting. It is sometimes used for improving language skills and getting familiar with the local culture and lifestyle. Guests are either accommodated in the family home or in separate quarters nearby. Nowadays, most homestays provide their guests with just as much comfort as a reputable hotel. Preethy had thought about this business idea because her assessment of the footfall of foreign tourists to India had given her a fair idea about the huge potential that lay in this business. Homestays are in demand in regions witnessing maximum foreign tourists and, therefore, Preethy had very carefully chosen Kerala. Also as Preethy reasons, “As per the Kerala State Tourism Department, there is shortage of hotel rooms during peak season. Hence, Kerala is an appropriate location for a homestay venture.”

Preethy faced several setup challenges. “Getting the license was not much of a hassle as the Department of Tourism, Govt. of Kerala, supports homestays. However, it involved several reminders and follow-ups for the inspection and other essential formal procedures. It was a big challenge indeed to understand the way labour is employed in Kerala. Only specific kind of workers can be hired for a particular work, so one cannot recruit people from other community for some kinds of work. Thus, owing to stringent labour rules and high literacy rate, it was very difficult to hire manpower at a reasonable rate. Yet, despite all hiccups, I was determined to see my business through and along with my husband’s and father’s support, dealt with all problems.”

Throwing light on the homestay business, Preethy said: “The Department of Tourism has laid down guidelines for classification of homestay units and based on the facilities and quality of the accommodation provided, homestay units are classified into three categories. Homestay units fulfilling all the essential conditions prescribed by the Department of Tourism and meeting all required criteria in the checklist of facilities, belong to the Class-A category and are given the Diamond House status by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC). Similarly, those in Class-B category are awarded the Gold House status and those in Class-C category are accorded the Silver House status.” Karithanam Homestay, within a year of setting up, was accorded KTDC-approved Diamond Category Homestay Certificate.”

The homestay venture was financed from own savings and recurring business revenues. Karithanam Homestay’s target market comprises NRIs, foreign and domestic tourists. The journey was replete with challenges but was worth the effort. Preethy recounts: “Despite competition from local hotels and homestays, Karithanam Homestay succeeded as it offers a truly unique experience to guests. I made sure that I showcased India’s diverse culture, religions, faiths and traditions to the guests. That became our winning point. The homestay was also done up with that objective.”

As a strategic move, Preethy has also added the Kerala Ayurveda dimension to her business. Karithanam is an ayurveda homestay with an ethnic touch; it caters to the wellness and rejuvenation needs of the guests in ancient and traditional Indian ayurveda way. Karithanam Homestay also offers a full-fledged library equipped with over 3,000 books from varied areas so that the guests can explore India through these books. As a business strategy, Preethy is very particular about sustaining relations not only with the lead travel agents in and around Kerala but also with other travel agents across India so that the business prospers. Preethy credits her success to her learning during graduation, work experience and EDII’s hardcore entrepreneurship training along with mentoring support.

Preethy concludes, “It is my dream that Karithanam Homestay gets rated as the best homestay in Kerala. I wish to provide excellent hospitality and the best of other services under one roof to each and every individual who visits us