Journalist Amrit Dhillon who’s been renting out her holiday home in Bhimtal from before Covid struck, has had first-hand experience of the rise in rentals. “I was frankly surprised at how many guests were either coming back for a second stay or were coming through word of mouth,” she says. “I started letting it out to pay for maintenance and staff salaries. [Now with the increase in bookings] from one person I now employ four people.”
Like Vijoy, others tracking the villa rental space point out that the market has been growing steadily since 2017. And that the continuing pandemic has merely accelerated that growth with national and regional operators adding new homes, many of which are being renovated and brought to a standard where they can be rented out. Ramit Sethi cites the lack of quality ready-to-lease housing and the cost of real estate acquisition as the primary stumbling blocks in the growth of the industry. Over the past three years, Sethi, an angel investor, has been slowly increasing his stake in the Delhi-based villa rental company, Seclude. It specialises in creating immersive experiences around the properties it manages. “Owners have now begun to realise their white elephants can generate revenue for them,” he says. “Also, there are developers that are creating new inventory which will further spur growth.”
Ashish Gupta had such white elephants to thank when in September he pivoted from organising trips for senior corporate executives and South India’s elite to renting out and managing their luxury homes. “Our homeowners, in the pre-Covid scenario, would never have considered the possibility of giving out their homes,” says Gupta who has successfully run Chennai’s Milesworth Journeys, a leisure and learning tour operator, for 25 years. Today under the brand name LuxUnlock, he and co-founder Rucha Gupta manage luxury homes in Puducherry and Kodaikanal. Next on their list are properties in Chettinad and the Nilgiris. Baywatch Travels’ Manish Kriplani has gone beyond managing the elephants. Along with an asset funding partner, he is developing 25 uber-luxury villas across Tamil Nadu. “Once Baywatch Stayzz has operationalised the first 25, the next 25 will be in Karnataka,” he predicts, quite confidently. In Kerala, OneEarth Properties is building pool villas in hill stations like Panchalimedu. All this in South India where high-end villas and those renting them have both been rare commodities. “For one, the pandemic is not going to disappear soon,” responds Gupta. “So, there will be vulnerable travellers who will want to travel and stay safely. More importantly, Indian travellers who have never experienced a villa rental, will see the benefits of renting one.” Ultimately, that’s what the Indian villa rental industry is banking on—and taking to the bank.