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Travel: How Homestays Could Revolutionize the Tourism Industry In Kenya

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Our tourism industry is fickle and societies dependent on tourism are usually brought to their knees when big hotels close down. The tourism industry needs a serious revolution and homestays could be the model that takes Kenya to the big leagues.

If we are to compete with the likes of Malaysia who got 27.8 million tourist visitors in 2016, compared to Kenya’s’ 1.3 million visitors the same year we have to vary our offering to tourists as they have. For instance, while we are only just scratching the surface of homestays, Malaysia’s tourism ministry established a national homestay program way back in 1995.

Homestays can work. Image from https://kecobat.blogspot.co.ke/2014/08/homestays-concept-in-kenya.html

Understanding homestays

A homestay is a travel experience where a visitor gets to live with local families in their homes while experiencing their daily lifestyle and culture. The visitor participates in almost every activity the family does, from cooking on three stones to fetching water from the local river. There are different types of homestays depending on the goal of the tourist. Homestays with voluntary programs where the visitor gets to teach in local schools, help in house construction or participate in other community projects. Tourists going for these type of homestays are sometimes people looking to experience doing voluntary work in developing countries before committing themselves to something permanent.

We also have cultural village homestays where the tourists’ main desire is to immerse themselves in the local culture and traditions, the hosts thus organize traditional dances, mock weddings and initiation ceremonies, wrestling matches etc. One such village is Ngomongo village in Shanzu, Mombasa County, providing a chance to dive into the Mijikenda culture. Here is an article by Daily Nation on a homestay in Njeri – Nyeri homestays where tourists milk cows.

Wildlife homestays are those where tourists stay in an environment where they can easily interact with nature-very popular for bird watchers (Kenya hosts over 1,000 species of birds). One such group offering this experience is the Kakamega Environmental Education Program (KEEP), who have Eco-lodge houses in a leased land within the Kakamega Wildlife Conservancy.  In these lodges, guests interact and learn from local tour guides, eat traditional food cooked by villagers and experience traditional Luhya dancing and storytelling in the evenings. Giving tourist an experience very different from what they would experience in a five-star hotel in Malindi. The group pays the Kenya Forest Service (KWS) 5 percent of their proceeds while the local community benefits both financially and through cross-cultural influences.

Benefits of homestays to communities

  • Tourists pay host families directly or through community-based organizations, helping bridge the current disparity between the rich and poor in the country.
  • There is mutual learning between host families, visitors as they interact, and work together. Homestays are a great a source of education for the local community especially in regards to conservation; people are more responsible when they realize that conserving the environment benefits them directly.
  • As communities seek to teach visitors, they reinforce their local values, traditions and customs.
  • Permanent relationships and bonds are formed as a result of these visits, with families exchanging gifts, keeping in touch long after the homestay is over.

Unique value for tourists

Homestays provide a slower pace of life, allowing easy relaxation and unwinding, a precious thing to a tourist looking for a break from the fast life of a busy city like New York or Beijing.

Homestays also provide unique experiences like bullfighting in Western Kenya, storytelling and traditional dances. A tourist goes home not just having seen wildlife in Kenya but having knowledge and experienced the local way of life e.g. agricultural system, artefacts, and customs.

Tourists also get to go beyond just enjoying local cuisine prepared in fancy kitchens in hotels but participate in preparing the meals in a traditional setting, right from plucking fresh vegetables from the farm.

Furthermore, for foreigners considering work in developing countries, homestays that involve volunteer activities could help them get a short experience before committing further.

Homestay for urban households

Homestays are not just for rural household, the urban folk can benefit too. Thanks to Airbnb, an online market and hospitality service, which enables people to rent-short term, lease lodgings, apartments, hostel beds, and homestays. The service allows house owners to list their extra rooms, beds and houses for temporary stays, allowing anyone from any part of the world to skip hotels and find an affordable, unique place to stay.

“For many Africans being able to turn their greatest expense-their home, into a source of additional revenue is good news, said Chris Lehane, Airbnb global public affairs director said in a statement in Johannesburg.

Airbnb recently announced it would invest US $1 million in Africa by 2020 to promote and support community-led tourism projects. A show of confidence on Africa’s’ potential. The company reported that its visitors to Africa hit 1.2 million (almost equal to Kenya’s 2016 total tourist numbers) between September 2016 and September 2017.

We cannot deny that homestays provide communities with a great chance to participate in the tourism industry, with 40 million Kenyans all pushing one agenda: visit Kenya. This is one of the things that can revitalize the tourism industry.

Featured image via http://www.nation.co.ke.

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