Community homestay tourism has been around for many years. Yet still, a lot of people either has not heard of it or has not fully understood what it is and what values it brings to both tourists and local hosts.
A travel experience
More than just a tourist accommodation, community homestay is a travel experience, usually located in developing countries. Visitors stay in the homes of local families in order to experience their culture and their daily life. They can participate firstly, in various social activities such as in dances, songs, music, sports, games and food festivals; secondly, in traditional practices such as farming, fishing, cooking, arts and crafts, water rafting, cycling and jungle trekking; and thirdly, in volunteering programs such as teaching, house construction, cleaning, livelihood and other social development projects.
Directly linked to the community
What makes community homestays stand out from other forms of tourist accommodations is that the locals themselves plan for and administer the programs and itineraries. As such, they are the primary recipients of tourism benefits. Aside from financial returns, the locals benefit in the mutual learning, sharing of ideas, and the reinforcement of local values and customs amongst fellow community members. Locals become more engaged in special events where they can collectively display customs and traditions, for example: role-playing in staged weddings, fishing trips with a local farmer, batik printing demonstrations and organising festivals and other social events.
What visitors say
Most homestay providers cannot afford paid advertisements, thus, guest testimonials have become a major marketing drive for most of them. Here’s what most visitors say about their homestay experience:
Pastoral atmosphere. Homestay services are far from commercial tourism services, albeit the experience of the guests reflect the simplicity and the pastoral atmosphere within rural village life.
Authenticity. Hosts focus on how guests can experience and learn from authentic and enriched culture. Guests find easy access to tourist attractions where they can have either day trips or overnight trips with local tour guides.
Becoming family. While tourists arrive as visitors, they leave the homes as family members. This is not surprising considering the level of interaction that has transpired within the privacy of the locals’ homes.
What locals say
Tourists are not the only ones who benefit from the experience. The locals themselves have identified a number of reasons why they want to continue opening up their homes to tourists.
Information exchange. Locals find it interesting to engage in meaningful conversations with guests and to share ideas which reveal similarities and differences of their culture and that of others. As such, they gain a better perspective and understanding of other people and places they have never been to.
Reinforcement of cultural heritage. Locals get to exercise their rich and diverse cultural heritage. There is higher propensity for cultural practices to diminish if they are not reinforced through community-based programs like this.
Relationships established. Long after the visitors have left, locals normally receive calls, letters and even gifts from their guests. These gestures portray the lasting impact of their visitors’ interactions amongst their family and their community.
Addressing the need to promote homestay tourism
Government agencies, particularly within the tourism sector have performed significant roles in boosting the operation of homestay programs. They developed the provision of certificates to host families, production of promotional materials such as brochures, and replication of best practices in similar communities in other regions. However, there is still a large gap in marketing that needs to be addressed. With the small number of visitors in their homestays, locals are yet unable to sustain their tourism initiatives.
Such gap forms the basis for the establishment of Community Homestay Tourism Network (CH.org). CH.org is to be known for its two distinct personalities: Firstly, it is the social enterprise that promotes the collaboration of various homestay tourism providers in different countries. Secondly, it is the provider of the first online marketplace exclusively for community organisations that run homestay accommodation and cultural tours, namely, in Bhutan, Cambodia, Kenya, Thailand, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines and other countries. It aims to provide travelers with different homestay options such as: jungle homestay, island homestay, paddy homestay, cultural village homestay, and wildlife homestay. Furthermore, in ensuring safety and sustainability, CH.org promotes programs which meet certain criteria such as (1) government registration (2) years of experience, and (3) access to online technology.
The enormous challenge brought about by the increasing competition amongst tourism industry players certainly puts pressure on community homestay providers. Global scale must thus be achieved in order to draw the attention of various tourism markets, especially when there are people who are yet to discover the values and benefits of community homestay to tourists, hosts and their living environments.
Tags:Community based tourism, cultural tours, homestay, immersion, service learning, tourism, tourist accommdations, travel