Live the travel

Live the travel
Learn while you relax’ is the latest buzzword in the hospitality sector with the emergence of homestays in the State. From local cuisine to native culture and basics of agroforestry, homestays provide first-hand information about the diversity of a region to travellers. “Being an expert on a subject or having a passion for an occupation goes a long way in sustaining a homestay,” says Narasimha Chapakhanda, who started Kadumane Homestay in the Joida region of Uttara Kannada district 10 years ago. Being an avid birdie, he has complete information about the flora and fauna of the picturesque surroundings. As a result, this place is flocked by birdwatchers, photographers and nature enthusiasts.

Not just accommodationJoida, that remained unexplored until recently, now attracts thousands of travellers every year. There are about 30 homestays catering to the varied interests of people. Each effort is based on a specific theme and most of them work complementary to each other. For instance, Amara Homestay is known for its authentic traditional cuisine, while Dandeli Chalet with its vegetable fields and agricultural land provides a rich farm experience. Joida is considered as a ‘dark zone’ economically, in spite of its rich natural resources. Homestays have come as an opportunity for those who want to earn a living without harming nature. “Instead of cutting a tree for money, we show it to the visitors and disseminate knowledge about the ecosystem to generate income,” says Narasimha. 

Joida has set a model for the smooth and collaborative functioning of homestays. Kali Parisara Pravasodyama Samsthe, a network of people linked to homestays, including drivers, tour operators, naturalists and owners, was formed seven years ago to ensure that the enterprise moves on track. About 15 homestays and affiliated people are members of this group. They invariably meet once every month to strengthen the bond, share experiences and innovations. Workshops are also organised to create awareness about nature and the nuances of the hospitality sector. 

While homestays are a livelihood option for some people, for others, they are a means to engage themselves creatively. Consider the case of Pallavi and Prakash of Thotadhahalli Homestay in Chikkamagaluru district. Their passion for travelling and meeting people resulted in the creation of a homestay facility in their ancestral house. “This venture has only boosted our interests,” says Pallavi. Along with the serene nature and coffee estate, the traditional Malnad architecture, collection of antique pieces and bonsai plants enthrall the guests here. Similarly, Keremane Homestay near Sringeri banks on its collection of horticulture varieties. 

Most of the homestays are run by people with farming background. Involvement of the entire family is crucial to the success of homestays. Interestingly, unlike farming, even the younger generation gets involved in managing homestays. For some families, homestays have become the mainstay, while for others they act as shock absorbers. 

Shock absorbersEven as the homestay enterprise is catching up in other regions, in Kodagu, the cradle of homestays in Karnataka, the venture has come a long way. In fact, the concept of homestay originated in this district much before others even considered it a viable option. Since decades, travellers, mostly from abroad, have visited Kodagu to trek the hills and explore the pristine beauty of the region. Along came the concepts of bed-and-breakfast and homestays. Take a look at the efforts of Suresh Chengappa and Susheela Chengappa of Honey Valley in Yavakapady, once the largest producers of honey in Karnataka. What started as a basic facility came to their help, when the honey production reached a low due to a disease in the 1990s. Later, they considered it as their prime occupation, studied the basics of the sector, and grew from a basic facility to a homestay and beyond. 

As in any other profession, homestays have their own set of challenges — from managing different types of guests to processing waste and recruiting people. “Like agriculture, this enterprise is also vulnerable, as tourist inflow is dependent on various reasons,” says Suresh, stressing that it is the responsibility of both guests and hosts to maintain the warmth and ethics of the profession. “We should also have the right to choose our guests,” he opines. He feels that domestic travellers increased with the IT boom and now they form the majority.  

In Moodabidri, the farm guest house of Dr L C Soans, a veteran agriculture scientist, has given a new dimension to farm tourism. The guest house at an elevation provides a panoramic view of the farm. The accommodation with kitchen facility is preferred by researchers, both on a short-term and long-term basis. Even horticulture students come here to stay and learn the basics. “Farming can be sustainable when farmers insulate themselves with complementary activities,” says Dr Soans. 

Poorna Suresh, who prefers homestays over hotels, says, “We get personalised attention in homestays. Peaceful environs and the warmth of the hosts add to the charm of homestays. They are suitable when we travel as a family, with elderly people and kids, and have specific requirements like food. But, we should ensure that the homestay meets the safety standards before booking one.” 

Along with providing a unique experience to tourists, homestays also boost the economy of a region, facilitate the flow of money from urban to rural areas and help improve the living condition of people linked to them — from vegetable growers to crafts people. Unlike resorts or hotels, homestays employ local people. Homestays also provide a platform for local entrepreneurs to market their products. “Around 500 bottles of pickle and 30,000 papad gets sold here every year. We recommend only quality products,” says K R Bhaskara Rao of Keremane Homestay. 

However, homestays are yet to emerge as a structured segment of travel sector in the State. According to estimates, there are over 1,200 homestays in the State, and about 40% of them have registered with the State Tourism Department. The State government has initiated the process to register each homestay to streamline the sector. “Though the State Government has come up with a policy for homestays, it is not comprehensive. It is time the government understands the potential of this sector and complement it with a supportive regulatory environment. A flexible, single window system is necessary,” says Anil H T, a homestay promoter in Kodagu. He makes a thorough check of safety and facilities in a homestay before listing it. 

“Of late, more people, particularly from the corporate sector, are preferring homestays. Still, unlike hotels, homestays do not have a steady flow of guests. The tourism policy should address this concern,” says Patrick George, director, Prakruthi Holidays. Along with the ambience, location and online presence also seem to be important for the success of a homestay. The type of guests depends on the tourist places close by. 

Setting aside the advantages and limitations, the luxury of unwinding in a homely atmosphere seems to have caught the imagination of new-age travellers. 

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