By Naveed Rozais
Sri Lanka’s private villa culture is experiencing something of a boom in the wake of Covid-19. Traditionally considered to be a very exclusive (and expensive) travel arrangement, the last few months, for various reasons, have seen private villas becoming more and more accessible.
But what sets private villas apart as a travel accommodation option in the new normal in which we find ourselves? The Morning Brunch spoke to Sri Lankan villa booking management platform Ceylon Haven Founder Dilshan Rabbie to learn more.
Why do you feel there has been an increase in private villas of late?
Generally, the main incentives are the privacy and security that villas offer. With villas, something most people aren’t aware of is the fact that there are also more affordable and smaller bedroom-sized villas; what typically comes to mind is the extremely luxurious big-brand villas but there are lots of smaller villas providing more exclusive accommodation for small groups that give these groups more privacy and safety.
Another edge villas have is the amount of personalisation they offer. The staff also doesn’t rotate as fast as a hotel, and personal preferences are easier to accommodation. For repeat travellers, it is the same staff that you see on your next visit.
These are a few reasons why villas are now in higher demand.
What impact do you feel the recent second wave of Covid-19 infections is likely to have on travel?
In response to the new wave, there have been quite a few cancellations, particularly for the month of October. Property owners are also concerned, and Ceylon Haven works very closely with the owners of the properties we partner with. If the owners or staff feel unsafe, we communicate this to our clients and see how else we can accommodate them. In the coming months, things will pick up again.
Right now, everyone wants to travel, but restrictions are a key concern – can they travel across borders? Can they travel in the same group sizes that they initially planned?, etc. The tourism sector has released a circular in response to the new wave of infections saying that all establishments must operate on 50% occupancy for the time being. Therefore, we need to provide a villa that is double the size of the group that is travelling.
What is Ceylon Haven and what role does it play in fostering villa culture?
Ceylon Haven is a platform built by locals for locals that features villas only. We saw that the owners of these villas were suffering because of the lockdown, not being able to pay staff and operate on their usual models. We wanted to drive more attention to these smaller properties that don’t have the same marketing capacities and budgets as big hotels. The big hotels were able to fill in their room nights with incentives and offers, but smaller properties couldn’t do this and no one was focusing on them.
The main intention for Ceylon Haven came from a very personal space. Our group of friends were unable to travel during the lockdown, and being at home for an extended period of time was frustrating. We began to look at how and where we would travel as soon as restrictions lifted and saw a gap in the market with the only accommodation booking platform being internal ones like Airbnb or Expedia. There was no local platform that made it easy to contact local properties, especially the smaller ones, and get information to see if they were open, what their safety precautions were, etc. There were a few villa renting websites, but the experience was not seamless and easy.
Ceylon Haven started in early June with a group of three friends including myself. We didn’t have the marketing budget to go all out, so we began by sharing Ceylon Haven among our friends groups. And now, the brand has been established. We have over 80 properties that have come on board, with much more interested in joining us as well.
What sets Ceylon Haven apart is the customisation and personalised service we offer. Customisation is not a completely alien concept, but something that many people haven’t been exposed to is customisation on an affordable budget. People expect it to come at a high price point.
We work with our clients’ budget and see what we can do based on budget and group size, proposing properties accordingly and then working with clients on what meals and menus they would like, any transport requirements they may have, and briefing the staff at the property on their individual requirements to provide clients with a completely personalised experience.
How do you see demand for villas and villa vacations evolving in the long term?
Villas will definitely gain a larger portion in the accommodation sector. Once restrictions are lifted, and even beyond, there will still be questions on safety and privacy. It does come down to preference; some people will prefer the big hotel experience with its buffets and its large pools, and the villa vacation experience is entirely different.
Villas have not always been accessible, and Ceylon Haven is bringing accessible world-class Sri Lankan properties into the limelight and exposing more and more people to this format of vacations. Through Ceylon Haven, there is someone clients can contact with the aim of making use of these properties and creating a memorable vacation experience.