Keeping Goa’s heritage and culture intact, Shanti Morada in Saligao is Delhiite Rajat Verma’s way of practicing tourism rightly, discovers SHOMA PATNAIK
Tucked away in the interiors of Saligao is Shanti Morada, a boutique hotel built on a restored and remodeled old Goan heritage property. Locals remember it as an abandoned and old house before it was taken up for repairs and opened up as a hotel. Although in operation for over a year, Shanti Morada is unobtrusive in presence and is easy to mistake as a private residence if you are new to the locality.
The spick and span exteriors of the well-kept, Portuguese-era building is perhaps the only sign of it being a hotel. Launched in January last year, it is the second hospitality venture of Rajat Verma whose first hotel is in Delhi. Both hotels are part of Shanti Boutique Hotels, an emerging hotel chain started by Verma and his wife.
The Goa property, he points out, was purchased in December 2006 and took about eight years to complete. Getting requisite permissions from different authorities took the first four years and remaining years were spent on renovation and repairs. Restoration of the place was a painstaking process and it cost about ` 15 crore, adding that he is braced himself for long capital recovery time owing to the small size of the hotel. Achieving an operating profit will take not earlier than eight years, is his estimate.
The Delhi hotel was completed in 2008, a year after it was initiated while the Goa project which commenced first was completed later, points out Verma. But even though the time over run is disturbing there is no regret on the effort or expense. Thanks to rave reviews from travel sites and word of mouth publicity from satisfied guests, the bookings are good and the hotel has managed 75 per cent average annual occupancy in first year of operations.
Shanti Morada is a project of passion and has retained its original culture while converting into hotel. The ground continues as gradient and construction is on levels. Similarly, the balcony railings, woodwork and fittings are as close to previous as before. Hand painted tiles are the hallmark of Portuguese architecture in Goa and were previously imported, and are no longer available locally. So these were imported from Spain and used for the stairs.
The hotel itself is lot more extensive on the inside than what it appears from the outside. Rooms are spacious, have balconies and receive natural lighting. Each is of distinct design with antique furniture sourced within Goa or outside. There is also a kitschy filmy room with movie posters on the wall for Bollywood fans.
While doing up the place, Verma says that he wanted to be a part of the village and not be a glass and chrome Chinese structure hotel found in the beach belt of North Goa. Thanks to preserving the old design, the property is a heritage structure for which ‘heritage hotel’ tag is being sought.
A practitioner of ethical tourism, he has definite views on Goa’s hospitality industry. Goan economy is very dependent on tourism and therefore the policy makers need to do a lot to make things easier for the tourist. The government should have a standard policy for hoteliers in conjunction with the infrastructure. Taxis need to be monitored and metered as well as roadway and bus transportation. On New Year’s Eve, taxi drivers were asking for ` 5,000 from Baga to Saligao when the fare is just
` 500 and his guests were naturally miffed.
Goa has a high potential for tourism if things are headed in the right direction. Hotels are coming up rampantly with no uniformity on the façade or exterior. Sloping roofs and terracotta tiles are the stamp of Goan houses but hotels do not follow it, he rues.
In his opinion, the marketing of Goa as a holiday destination is not proper either. While monsoons are unbelievable beautiful months, it is pitched as off-season tourism. Consequently no tourist has got used to paying cheap packages and will never pay regular rates in monsoons, is his view.
Verma also wants to dispel all notions of him being a moneyed outsider from Delhi who views tourism as investment. Although a new generation hotelier, he is experienced in the world of hospitality as both he and wife are hotel school graduates. Building their own hotel was always a part of their long term plans even as they worked in top companies. Verma himself was with film marketing company, 20th Century Fox, from where he made most of his money.
Shanti Morada, he continues, is environmentally friendly because it has a STP plant which recycles water to irrigate the garden. It has power back-up, solar lighting and seven rain water harvesting pits that refill the ground water. Consequently, the wells in the property never go dry and are used in the hotel.
It is also village friendly because it does not take in single men (only couples and families), does not permit loud music or conferences. It is positioned as purely a leisure hotel for the genuine sightseer. It does not seek tips from guests although they are free to put money into a pot while leaving. The money is then equally shared with all 30 employees.