Around 500 metres from the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi, a boutique bed and breakfast is offering a unique experience to travellers. Safarnama Varanasi provides the comfort of a hotel to backpackers.
A favourite among tourists visiting the city, the boutique bed and breakfast has served over 7,000 guests from over 50 countries since its inception in 2017. It remains one of the top-rated properties on platforms such as Airbnb, booking.com, GoIbibo, and others.
What makes it more unique is that the founder has no background in the hospitality industry. Avinav Peshwani is a geologist, and says the venture was born out of a passion to support sustainable tourism.
Avinav completed his graduation from IIT Dhanbad in 2015. On returning home, he decided to make a career in the hospitality industry. “I travelled across the UK, Shanghai and other parts of the world during my graduation. The experiences made me think about improving the state of tourism in my city. Foreign tourists here often struggled with finding an affordable yet comfortable place to stay at,” the 28-year-old says.
Taking tourists to undiscovered places
In 2015, Avinav took his first plunge into the world of travel and tourism by conducting tours for foreigners and organising events for rickshaw pullers and the boating community to promote them. He organised city tours for foreigners, offering them unique experiences. “I tried to give tourists the local experience of commuting, eating home-cooked food, giving them a view of the city’s culture and art, and showing them around traditional and non-touristic places preferred by the locals. Diverting from the conventional itinerary made the experience special, and opened up opportunities of sustainable tourism, where the locals benefit economically,” he says.
His interactions with foreigners gave him a better understanding of how he could make their stay economically viable and comfortable. Avinav borrowed a MUDRA startup loan of Rs 4 lakh from the bank, and some money from the family to launch Safarnama Varanasi. Ashish Agarwal, a friend from college, became co-founder in the startup.
“The property is meant for backpackers and tourists, and located close to the Dasaswamedh Ghat. Tourists like getting to know the city through local experiences. They appreciate roaming around in rickshaws and boats, eating local delicacies, and walking around gullies that most other tourists don’t visit,” he says, adding that he felt elevated when Hollywood actor Gerard Butler visited one of his properties during his visit to India in 2020.
The startup earned a profit of around Rs 8 lakh a month during peak tourist season. Ashish and Avinav opened another property for guests in the city, and one in Agra as well. However, the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown affected tourism and halted the progress they had made so far.
Slowly getting back on their feet
However, Ashish says, “We are slowly returning to pre-COVID times. We managed to break even in the past three years. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that relying mainly on foreign tourists for business had to change. Hence, we registered the property on Indian online platforms to cater to domestic tourists.”
He adds that besides the pandemic, creating the ecosystem for sustainable tourism was a challenge. “Neither of us had funds or experience in the hospitality industry. With no exposure, we struggled with permissions and putting things in line,” he adds.
Avinav hopes the tourism business will improve in the coming months. “We will hopefully reopen our property in Agra and get the startup back on track. More additions are underway to improve tourist experience, and help support the local economy,” he adds.
Edited by Divya Sethu