Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Pradeep Gaur/Mint

This winter, go to a home away from home

Unique experiences and value for money are seeing the homestay segment grow. But check all details

Kanika Gupta, an exporter from Delhi, is an avid traveller. Her travels have taken her from Kashmir to Coorg, and where ever she goes, she prefers to opt for homestays. Last week, she went with her family to Banaras, where they all put up in a homestay. “I wanted to give them a taste of what it is like," said Gupta. Before this trip, she had gone to Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh. And there, too, her choice of accommodation was the same. “The whole experience of homestays is more enriching. For instance, in one of the homestays in Spiti Valley, we helped the family prepare meals and ate with them. I like the fact that homestays are a very informal affair, unlike with a hotel or a resort. Plus, it is cheaper," said Gupta. It cost her just 300 a night (and around 100 for food) for her stay.

This type of accommodation, while popular in many other countries, is now finding more takers in India now—for domestic as well as international tours. “We are seeing an increase in number of guests from India using homestays when travelling overseas to Europe and the US," said Alan Clarke, chief executive officer, Homestay.com, a global homestay online portal. “Our statistics also show that homestays are on the rise when travelling internally in India. The number of hosts signing up has gone up too," he added.

The trend is reflected by data from other sources as well. For instance, homestays have gone up from 17 in 2004 to 1,663 across 207 destinations, according to a report by travel portal, HolidayIQ, named Homestays in India: Trends and Patterns. As of now, Kerala, Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have the maximum share (88%) among homestays.

With winter vacations fast approaching and many finalising their travel plans, here’s a closer look at homestays.

What is a homestay?

A homestay is a concept similar to that of a bed and breakfast. Guests stay either in the family home, or in separate quarters nearby. In contrast to a hotel, a homestay usually only has a few rooms. The family that resides there runs it, and acts as host. Nowadays, many homestays offer as much comfort as a reputable hotel. The properties range from heritage to regular homes. In states like Kerala and Jammu and Kashmir, you can even stay in houseboats.

There are dedicated portals for finding such accommodation, including Airbnb.com, Homestay.in and Saffronstays.com. Others such as OYO Rooms, and Yatra.com, too, have homestays listed on their portals, which are listed after due checks.

For instance, Sharat Dhall, president, Yatra Online Pvt. Ltd, in an earlier interview to Mint had said that the company makes calls and even visit the properties before listing them. On its website, Saffronstays states that the company makes a verification call to confirm details that a host provides during registration.

Various government departments, too, offers homestay options. For example, Ministry of Tourism has a scheme called Incredible India Bed & Breakfast/Homestay Establishments, in 11 states.

Cost benefit

Homestays can cater to various budgets. “There are homestays that cater to the budget-end of the spectrum and those that cater to luxury travellers, where you will find amenities like those in, say, a 4- or 5-star hotel or resort," said Dhall.

The price band is usually 1,000-5,000, according to the report mentioned above. More than half of the inventory—65%—is at 2,000 or below per night, which means there is ample choice for budget travellers. The mid-upscale segment—in the range of 2,000-5000 per night—comprise 31% of the total accommodations. The remaining is the luxury segment (above 5,000).

Homestays might be economical, but their USP is the ‘home away from home’ experience. A 2014 report by Homestay.com said the No.1 reason why travellers choose this type of accommodation is because they “enjoy staying in a home environment". For instance, the food would be more authentic. Some hosts even welcome their guests into the kitchen.

The second most popular reason was location.

The third most popular reason was value for money. For instance, according to Airbnb’s website options for stay in New Delhi during December were priced at an average price being about 2,800 a night. Internationally, in London, for instance, the average price per night being around 9,500. Hotels in the same locations are comparatively more expensive. According to Hotels.com’s price index for 2014, the average cost of a 3-star hotel room is 3,300 and 6,780 for a 4-star room in Delhi. In London, it is, 10,500 and 15,660 a night, respectively.

A point to note here is that the further you move away from a city centre or a even a city, you are likely to get bigger properties. For instance, a search on Airbnb shows that for 2,000-3,000, you will mostly find one- and two-room homestays in Barcelona, Spain. Whereas, just 5 hours away in Bilbao, you can get apartments and even few small cottages for the same amount.

Things to look out for

Yes, you do get a home away from home experience at a lower cost, but keep a few things in mind before making a choice.

Navi Mumbai-based Swati Babel, who herself has stayed in such accommodation, occasionally lets out a room in her apartment through a couch surfing programme. “Always talk to the host to find out about connectivity, public transportation, distance from metro stations, bus stops or airports, and so on," said Babel. “I used to stay in Andheri, and used to get many requests for accommodation there. But after moving to Navi Mumbai, the number of requests has come down because the connectivity in Andheri was much better," she added.

Do go through the cancellation policy of the homestay portal as well as the host. Some part of the deposit payment may not be refundable. Homestay.com, for example, retains 15%; Saffronstay has three cancellation policies, but also charges 5%.

Check about entry-exit timings, extra set of keys to the main door, construction going on in or around the house, weather conditions, and any other doubt that you may have. Check if pets are allowed, or if the host has a pet. “I have a big dog. Some people are not comfortable with that. So, I always ask the person enquiring about it," said Babel.

Also, you should know what amenities and services would be available; usually, it won’t be as it is in a similarly priced hotel or resort. For instance, the cheaper ones most probably will not have amenities such as bell-boys and toiletries, or even air conditioning or heating, television, and so on. Some may not offer food. And since it is a homestay, the type of cuisine will be limited to what the host family offers.

“Read reviews and host information. Look at photos. We offer a video chat option, which allows you to ‘meet’ your host online before confirming a booking," said Clarke. Read reviews on different portals and social media. This will give you an idea of what the stay will be like, the amenities available and the quality of the property and service.

Mint Money take

There are many options in homestays, and it is especially economical for solo travellers, those travelling as a large group or on long holidays. For solo and budget travellers, homestays may be slightly more expensive than hostels, but the quality of the rooms would be better and you will have more privacy. If you are going as a large group, then too it is a good option. “If, say, two or three families are going together, then it makes sense money-wise to book a cottage that is a homestay. It will be cheaper than a hotel or a resort. And the entire family can stay together in one property," said Dhall.

So, if you are planning on opting for a homestay, look at the amenities that are on offer for the price that you are paying, and the connectivity through various modes of public transportation.

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