“I really feel that people must, they just, must take a whiff of this amazingly fresh air. It is nothing short of magical! In a world that is fast paced; with vacations that can end up leaving you more tired than you were before, this fresh air rejuvenates. It really is not just about the scenic beauty, it truly brings tranquility to the soul!” Parvathy , the backbone of the Pournami Houseboats of the Alleppey backwaters, says with her eyes gleaming with childlike excitement.
Parvathy is an exemplary image of the modern woman entrepreneur in an area that is largely driven by men. Having completed her Masters in Computer Applications and worked in the corporate IT world, she is one among the very few men and women who have sought to discover their individuality and create success from scratch.
Pournami Houseboats which now branches out under the Spring Bay Holidays Pvt. Ltd. is located at the Finishing Point Road, OPP KSRTC Bus Stand in Alappuzha, Kerala. What began as a new venture in the year 2007, has, after many ups and downs, become one of the sought after cruise operators (with amazing reviews in tripadvisor) in the backwaters of Alleppey with several Houseboats under them.
How did it all begin, the houseboats, Pournami…cruises…?
I believe that it all sort of started unraveling in front of us from the point in time that we came into a bit of ancestral inheritance. There was a lot of talk about building a house and the usual stereotyped things. Having come across Dr.Spencer’s “Who Moved My Cheese”, the idea of taking risks and putting money for further growth sprouted in our heads.
We got a two bedroom houseboat back then and initially it was actually given out for rental use by cruise operators already in the market.
What made you go from rentals into a full-fledged cruise operator?
Owning a houseboat might sound cool but trust me when it comes to maintaining it, it’s not all that a colourful picture. It’s simply a regular life situation, nobody is going to take care of your stuff as well as you might. At the end of the day, we were stuck in a real fine mess of repairs and the fact is maintaining a house boat consumes a fair amount of money. Soon we were losing more than what we were investing. That’s when we figured out that we were going about it the wrong way and it’s time to step up and do things differently.
Did you face difficulty when you started renting out the houseboat yourself, or was it an easy ride?
Oh definitely! Some major hurdles did come our way. One of them stemming from the fact that we were utterly new in the business. There were already a lot of people in the market and it was really a mammoth effort to figure out how to reel in the customers. At the particular time, word of mouth was the definitive approach for promoting the business. It was in fact a major low point in our lives too. We have our manager Vinod who is the pillar of Pournami right from the beginning, he gave the momentum to Pournami as he was experienced in hospitality. The best thing is we still have all the employees that we started out with.
Things have undeniably transformed over the past years.But those were years of sleeplessness
Is house boat tourism an easy business once you cross the initial hiccups?
“I wish I could tell you that it was all hunky-dory” says Parvathy laughing out loud. Till the previous
year I used to sleep with the phone constantly next to my pillow. Running a houseboat is nothing short of taking care of a baby. It’s really important to make sure the customers are satisfied and there is a lot of background work that goes into it. The AC might not work suddenly due to power hitches, or there may be several similar minor issues that might require getting a technician to the spot to fix it, be it in the middle of the night. One thing everyone has to remember is that ultimately this is a structure that stays on water at all times; problems are bound to occur but the effort is in making sure that the customers are provided perfection.
What kind of concerns do travellers usually have regarding booking of a houseboat and how does it affect you?
Most of the times the problem arises if the photograph that the travellers have seen do not match the houseboat actually provided to them, so we usually put in a lot of effort to maintain the standard and appearance of the boat and also to provide an exact match. Being unpredictable as it is with inanimate things there are times when there may be issues with a provided houseboat and we may have to replace them with another. Not everyone is ready to adjust even if the quality is exceptional. Other issues involve high expectations like enquiries about a Jacuzzi since the rate is high.
Nowadays there are many agents offering the same things in the package like a menu for much lesser rates but lesser quality as well which the customer is not aware of; so it’s always a matter of concern for the customers as to why the prices are more here.
What are the high points and low points that Pournami Houseboats has faced in its journey?
The low point would probably be during the last June-July period. The heavy monsoon rains caused a lot of customers to turn away from this region. Monsoon time being an off season is usually a pretty tough time since the expenses keep popping up along with the salaries whether sailing or not.
The high point was a recent trip that was booked by a factory owner in Coimbatore for his family and employees with around 125 people. The success of this trip was that it came with no complaints and no issues.
How has the houseboat tourism transformed over the years?
As I mentioned earlier, the business usually came locally especially through walk in enquiries when we started off but the present scenario has changed drastically. Online enquiries and booking have become the trend. People’s’ expectation in terms of comfort and requirements have changed.
Everyone has a website and booking system irrespective of whether they are houseboat owners or not. The competition in the market is high and everyone is in their best of forms.
What makes Pournami different from others?
I really believe that the quality that we provide comes in a big way from our staff. Our staff is the
biggest asset we have. We make it a point to provide the most cordial service to the travellers. It’s a mood killer if the facilities are good and the staff are bad. We consider customer satisfaction to be our prime objective. The reviews that they give matter to us a lot, we try to improve upon every aspect with every suggestion and opinion.
What are the things you feel, needs to be addressed for the smoother movement of houseboat tourism?
I genuinely feel that there should be a clear discrimination between houseboat owners and brokers. Usually the owners have licenses registered that can be verified.
The second major trying issue at hand is the liquor ban in Kerala. It is adversely affecting the backwater tourism especially in terms of domestic market.
There should also be measures to check the bird flu scares that put off a lot of travellers from visiting here.
I also think that a few sloppy houseboat owners or operators who do not pay attention to maintenance apart from employing inexperienced staff affect accidents on the backwaters resulting in a lot of negative impression in tourists’ eyes. Stringent rules should be taken against such people.
How do you think the houseboat tourism is affecting the environment and how effective is ecotourism?
Having grown up in Alleppey, I can proudly say that the presence of houseboats here has definitely not polluted the waters of Alleppey. Waste management is of the utmost priority when anyone sets adrift here.
With the influx of huge number of tourists into the regions, how do the native people perceive and feel about it?
Oh the change has been truly overwhelming. The financial state of the people in and around the region has shot up. Most of the homes here have transformed into homestays, parking and so on.
People are looking ways and means to profit from the boom.Another notable transformation is the presence of Tourism police in every nook and corner. People can walk around anywhere, any time with their eyes shut.
How safe do you think Kerala is in comparison with the rest of India in terms of tourism?
In the initial days, tourism was something new for the natives here. They were seeing different cultures, different sense of dressing and kinds of people from all over the world. It did create quite a raucous amongst the localities. The curiosity and the problems lasted only while the whole concept was new. Now everyone has understood the importance of tourism for personal progress and have started acting accordingly.
A pleasing personality accompanied by an ever ready smile, Parvathy is filled with passion for the backwaters and wants the world to see the beauty and the overwhelming serenity she perceives. At the same time, she manages to create a realistic angle when it comes to the hard work and effort that goes into putting out each of these majestic beauties out on the water.
Book Your Kerala Houseboat cruise with Backwaterbreaks.com and set adrift on the scintillating backwaters!