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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A home for travellers away from home

When Mumbai-based Saurabh Natu returned from a trip to Himachal Pradesh, he brought back some fossil rocks, freshly ground garlic masala powder and memories of a lifetime. He now knows a lot about the culture and traditions of locals there.

Setting up a homestay is easy if there is extra space in your house. Facilities can vary from basic to luxury but be prepared to go the extra mile as host and to meet the basic rules


"Fossil rocks are still found in Langza village, in Spiti district. But the family I stayed with helped me find some, which I brought back. I also realised that people in these villages have to go through so many problems in their daily lives. For instance, there is no approach road to their houses and we had to walk a bit after parking our vehicle. Since the family could not afford to pay for biogas, the women have to collect cow dung for use in winter," he says.

Natu stayed in two home stays during his trip. In Narkanda, Kinnaur district, he chose one as it was cheaper than a hotel. In Langza, he had no option since it was a small village. But the experience was much more enjoyable than a hotel stay, he says. "The grandmother of the house cooked us food with vegetables plucked from their garden. I played with the kids. We were even allowed to help the family in their cooking.''

Certified financial planner and avid traveller Gaurav Mashruwala prefers homestays over hotels. In the past seven to eight years he's been using these facilities, there was no negative experience. He actively recommends home stays to friends and acquaintances.

"Home stays have a lot more warmth than hotels. This is the best way to know the local culture and traditional cuisine, the way it should be consumed. In comparison, hotels serve a refined version. The best thing about home stays is that you get to meet new people and make friends," says Mashruwala. This apart, he adds, you get a lot more space. From being confined in a hotel room, you can use the verandah/gallery, living room, kitchen, just as you would in a friend's house. You also get to know a lot of local details. Mashruwala has homestayed in Delhi, Agra, Mukhteshwar, Shilapani, Jodhpur and Chikmagalur. He farmstayed in Amritsar. However, since it is still a new concept in India, it might not be available at all locations. For instance, Mashruwala had to book a hotel in Hampi.

Setting up one at home
Home stays are ideal for tourists who want to experience the local way of life. Note, though, that the facilities might be basic as compared to a hotel. For instance, in Himachal Pradesh, a homestay in a remote village might offer only a dry toilet, which is a pit in the ground. A home stay with an attached toilet could cost you more, says Tsering Bodh, who offers these services in Himachal.

In Sipti Valley, a popular tourist spot, charges for a basic homestay could be Rs 750 per person per day, for stay, breakfast and dinner. If it is a room with an attached toilet, the rate might go up to Rs 1,000. A hotel in the area could charge upwards of Rs 1,200 and can go up to Rs 5,000.

Details of homestays are available on the websites of the tourism department of state governments. Those who wish to offer these must register. They must give details of the house, such as number of rooms, toilets, meals and other facilities offered, along with pictures. Many state governments support homestays by giving tax exemptions and so on. Tourists can check these websites for details of homestays such as facilities, rates and contact numbers and even ratings (available in some cases).

"Setting up a homestay is not very difficult if you have an extra room in your house. Unlike a hotel. you don't need staff. There is no opportunity cost. The family members do all the work. And, the tourists who come are those who want to contribute to the local community," says Bodh.

This is also why a homestay can make money even if it has only 50 per cent occupancy, unlike a hotel, he adds. The biggest expense Bodh incurred was constructing toilets in his house, which in an area like Spiti can be Rs 1.5-2 lakh. Providing good quality carpets and bedding cost another Rs 45,000-50,000. The expense will vary depending on the facilities the homeowner wants to offer and the place.


The Union Ministry of Tourism's Guidelines for Approval and Registration of Incredible India Bed & Breakfast or Homestay Establishments says, "The classification for an Incredible India homestay establishment will be given only in those cases where the owner /promoter of the establishment along with his/her family is physically residing in the same establishment and letting out minimum one room and maximum six rooms (12 beds)." Once approved, the classification is valid for two years.

The scheme will be on a bed and breakfast basis and charges will have to be levied accordingly. The type of breakfast to be offered will have to be specified, the charges will have to be displayed and the visitors informed in advance, it adds. A homestay establishment is also inspected for its services and for approval from time to time. The Incredible India homestay facilities are categorised as Silver or Gold.

It is mandatory for both Silver and Gold homestays to have well maintained and well equipped house and guest rooms with quality carpets/area rugs/tiles or marble flooring, furniture, fittings and so on, in keeping with the traditional lifestyle. Minimum floor area for each room in hilly areas is suppose to be 100 square feet for Silver category and 120 square feet for Gold category. In the plains, Silver category rooms should measure at least 120 square feet and Gold category should measure at least 200 square feet. Bathroom in a silver category room should be at least 30 square feet and the same should be at least 40 square feet in Gold category rooms, says the Tourism Ministry Guidelines.


Homestays are cheaper than hotels and charge at least 30 per cent less, says Karan Anand-head, relationships, Cox & Kings. These days, homestays are well-equipped to provide travellers with as much luxury as a hotel does, says Prashant Narayan, head, leisure travel inbound business, Thomas Cook India.

"A small working kitchen that includes a small fridge, some utensils, provision for warm water and comfortable mattresses, and proper sanitation are bare minimum requirements expected out of a regular homestay. The other benefits that homestays offer are a choice of authentic accommodation like havelis, rural huts, etc, and services such as traditional home-cooked meals." Travel operators are increasing seeing experiential travellers opt for homestays. Narayan says, "Our sales teams have been indicating a 12-15 per cent upswing (on a year-on-year basis) in queries for homestay options in India from students who come on exchange programs, youngsters and others who want to experience an authentic India."

How to choose

Before zeroing on a homestay Mashruwala checks if it is safe, clean and its rating. He suggests those listed on the websites of Incredible India or Mahindra Homestay (a part of Mahindra Holidays) or TripAdvisor. Also check the ratings/recommendations on these. Or, those by state tourism departments. For instance, Kerala Tourism Development Corporation rates homestays as platinum, gold or silver.

Anand says the concept of homestay is to provide a homely ambience and the homestay should provide the safety and security that normal hotels can offer. If there are children, then child-friendly amenities should be provided and they should also have amenities for the physically challenged and senior citizens.

As this is still an evolving concept in India, the standard and quality can vary. That's why some experts believe it's better to look for one through a trusted tour operator.

Source : Business Standard , 16th Nov 2014

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