KOCHI: At around midnight on December 3, 2017, British-born Rupert Evers was in a villa he was running on Marari Beach in Alleppey. He watched through the windows as the waves rose close to nine feet. With the sea wall broken, the sandbags that he put up, following cyclone Ockhi warnings were flung aside. Water came rushing in, and in a matter of minutes, the verandah vanished.
Rupert decided to rebuild the villa. But on May 26, 2018, another storm took the varandah away. This time, Rupert closed it for good. Rupert and his Russian wife Olga came to Kerala in September 2008. They wandered all over the west coast looking for an ideal beach to start a hospitality business; a search that ended in Marari. “It was the quintessential tropical beach—white sands, palm trees and colourful fishing boats. Unspoilt, too!” says Olga.
Despite setting up five beachfront villas, the business wasn’t easy. Tired of the soil erosion and routine problems with the locals, they shut down the villas and started operating private pool villas further down the beach. Last month, they opened a new one called Frangipani Villa.
“It’s called a serviced villa,” says Rupert, pointing at the luxury two-bedroom villa with a private garden and pool. “You have the privacy of a holiday home, receive service similar to a premium hotel. So, we have a butler, housekeeper, chef, caretaker and security. Kerala Tourism has recognised serviced villas as a category. There are yoga, cooking and kayaking classes as well,” he says.
Guests can wander into the nearby village to see the work of local artisans or go to the backwaters in kayaks or houseboats. Rupert’s holiday home has guests coming in from UK, France, Germany and Scandinavia. With the increase in domestic tourism over the last few years, tourists from Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Coimbatore and Kochi visit too.
Rupert and Olga’s ‘Marari Villas’, already operate two other villas called Orchid and Hibiscus. They enjoy a 97% TripAdvisor rating. “Kerala has a relaxed vibe and is much safer compared to the rest of India,” says Olga. “But there has been a lot of negative coverage about India in the international media in the last few years because of violence against female travellers. Now, Kerala is suffering, while Sri Lanka is prospering,” she says.
Rupert is all praise for the Malayali state of mind. But running a business still comes with many hurdles. The union threatened to close down the establishments and block guests. “The courts and labour office supported us,” says Olga. “The number of derelict warehouses across Alleppey is a sad sight. Unions can be so stubborn, that they would deprive people of employment rather than agreeing to compromise,” she adds.
The couple is also raising two kids—a boy and a girl who seem to be loving Marari. “Our workforce consists of 90 per cent locals, and many of them lack exposure. We are trying to instil certain standards in our property, and there is very little room for complaints,” he concludes.
The Indian connection
Through some fortuitous circumstances, Rupert Evers discovered that his great, great, great uncle, A F Sealy was born in India, and later became the first principal of Maharaja’s College in 1875. He also designed one of the main blocks on campus, now called the ‘Sealy Block’. He was also Ernakulam’s director of education. After 27 years as Principal, he retired and was ordained as a minister of St Francis Church in Fort Kochi. Incidentally, Rupert’s middle name is also Sealy.