New Delhi: The hotel rooms were ready but not many guests showed up. To overcome the dismal flow of tourists during the October Commonwealth Games, a number of small hotels in and around Delhi are now promoting homestay tourism.
To put it simply, a homestay combines the comfort of a boutique hotel, but with not more than eight rooms, with the personal hospitality and sharing of knowledge of the local culture by the host family -- a concept that until recently was confined to places like Kerala and Goa.
According to Sabina Chopra, co-founder of travel portal yatra.com, homestays have suddenly become popular after the bad business that the Commonwealth Games brought last month for small hotel owners in and around the national capital.
During the Games, around 3,000 rooms came up under the bed and breakfast scheme in Delhi.
"After the Commonwealth Games, Delhi has been left with an oversupply of budget hotels. Small hotels with 20-30 rooms hardly had even a 50 percent occupancy despite discounts. To make up for it, various hotel groups and others are now promoting homestay vacation in India," Chopra told reporters.
"The idea of the homestay experience is to attract tourists and make them enjoy Indian culture, food and colour in the comfort of an Indian home instead of having to travel to places like Rajasthan. And you can enjoy the experience the way you want," she explained.
The tourism ministry had estimated that 100,000 tourists would arrive during the Oct 3-14 Games. But the actual footfalls were 75,606.
Gour Kanjilal of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) said: "The bed and breakfast places and hotels which sprung up before the Games got a lukewarm response, thanks to the negative ,media publicity and dengue outbreak."
"To make up for it, these small hotels are offering their space to be used as guesthouses by small companies...Homestays have also emerged as a popular option which offers the Indian experience of eating home-cooked food and shopping," Kanjilal told reporters.
According to him, a homestay option costs around Rs.2,000-Rs.3,000 per night just for the accommodation.
Said Saeed Shervani, president of the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Northern India (HRANI): "In 2008, 10 million foreign tourists were targeted and the hospitality industry faced a shortfall of 130,000 rooms in all categories across India. In Delhi and the neighbouring region alone, there was a shortfall of 40,000 hotel rooms."
"This shortfall was met largely by encouraging new hotels around Delhi, bringing guesthouses into the mainstream in New Delhi. But this resulted in an oversupply of hotel rooms, further resulting in low occupancies and rates," he added.
According to Shervani, Gurgaon has 4,000-5,000 hotel rooms and another 2,000 rooms are planned in the next two years. Apart from this, there are another 2,500 hotels in the bed and breakfast segment, taking the number to 9,000 rooms - a growth of 350 percent in the last three years.
Sharmishta Sharma, who is promoting her guesthouse in Mehrauli as a homestay, said: "We had big hopes on the Commonwealth Games but hardly got any bookings...Then we heard about a couple of hotels promoting themselves as homestays and we too decided to do that."
"We have just launched our own website and have got a couple of bookings already. The idea is to give a visitor the typical Indian experience, complete with a taste of local cuisine and visits to areas of interest," she added.
The Mahindra Holidays and Resorts India Ltd, which launched the Mahindra Homestays, is one of the bigger groups that have taken the plunge into the growing homestay industry in India.
The group offers homestays in the "havelis of northern India", the "Tharavadu houses in Kerala", planters` mansions on tea plantations and stylish apartments in Delhi.
"In the homestays in Kerala, many offer backwater cruises on houseboats, in Rajasthan some arrange safaris on horseback to the countryside and in tea plantation homestays they may arrange treks across the tea gardens. The hosts may also organise well-being activities like ayurvedic massages," an official of the Mahindra Homestays said.