Updated: Apr 6, 2020
Ever since AirBnB institutionalised the concept of opening your home to strangers, homestays have mushroomed in every nook and cranny on the planet. So if you have spare room or space to build a cottage, this can be a great opportunity to earn some extra cash and meet interesting, new people.
A lot of our guests ask us - what prompted us to open up our farm to total strangers? For us, it was offering city people a peek into the life we live everyday, so they too can relish the joy of living amid nature, even if it is for just a day or two.
The conversation naturally leads to a surprising number of them confiding that we are 'living their dream' and they too one day would like to unplug from the grind of city life and move to the country to start their own B&B. What does it take to do that? How much money is enough to take the plunge? Who designed our homestay? Who master planned and landscaped our farm? And a million other questions follow.
I decided to write this piece to answer some of the key questions on how to start your own homestay / B&B – and have fun while doing it. So if you carry a secret wish to start your own micro hospitality venture – whether in that spare bedroom no one uses or build something specifically for the purpose, read on.
The foremost things to keep in mind when you are conceptualising your homestay experience is to put yourself in your guests' shoes and design the facilities and services you offer keeping the comfort, convenience and wow factor that will make their stay memorable.
When you go on a holiday or a break, what is it that you look for? More importantly, what are the things you miss the most? It could be something very minor, like side-tables next to the bed, to charge your phone and keep your wallet. Or it could be something very critical, like hygiene and upkeep. Close your eyes and imagine the guests' day at your place: Where will they park the car? What will they see when they walk towards their room? Once inside, what will be the first thing they will do? The more detailed your visualisation, the better will be your grasp in understanding what your guests need.
Having no experience in the hospitality industry is no obstacle to creating a memorable homestay experience for your guests if you have yourself traveled – and I don't mean the 5 star kind. There is something very enriching in seeking out unique and boutique hotels, inns and resorts that are off the beaten track and offer more private, authentic, even eccentric settings.
If you are already in that kind of travel, great! You already understand what I am saying. If not, I suggest you go on a few short vacations and seek out private, family run establishments in diverse places. It will give you a good handle on how these amateurs have managed to put together a stay experience that is not only more interesting than the antiseptic star hotels but have beaten them hands down in making it more pleasurable, comfortable and fun. You can pick up Lonely Planet books on your next vacation to find these places, or just search online.
The first thing we have to understand before approaching any conceptualisation is that each homestay experience necessarily needs to be unique, crafted around 3 things: The location, the owner's involvement and interests and the kind of guests the place can expect and what they are seeking.
Is your proposed homestay or B&B in the heart of the city? Near a waterfall? At a beach? All these factors determine how you design the experience.
In our case, Earth Kitchen is located on a farm, 30 kms outside Bangalore. So what kind of experience should it offer? Definitely, a farm experience. But this is not a regular farm, but a tree farm – or rather, a mini forest we planted. So the cottage is designed as a pentagon, offering views all around through large windows, with each room facing a different direction. Why a pentagon? Because although the guest cottage sits on a 2 acre piece of land, we did not want to crowd it with too many rooms and guests.
The design of the cottage too is determined by the location – we used exposed bricks, red oxide floors and bamboo fencing. Keep in mind that design is important but it has to be practical too. So while we have Mangalore tiled roofs visible from the interior of the cottage, we did not put the tiles on the external roof but chose a new material – Onduline – for roofing because although they are very pretty to look at, Mangalore tiles have a tendency to leak and fly off in strong winds.
The host is an integral part of the homestay and often the determining factor for the experience. So who you are and your interests will have a significant impact on the experience of your guests.
Arati, my wife, is a great cook and baker, so obviously, the food we offer to our guests has become one of the highlights of the experience at Earth kitchen. We also grow a lot of organic produce on the farm, so that too is part of our DNA. We love dogs and have 6 of them, so part of the experience of staying with us is meeting our dogs. If you read the reviews on our website, you will find all these factors as key USP's that guests mention again and again.
So if you are a potter or a birdwatcher or musician, let your guests enjoy a taste of your skills. Talk to them, share your stories and hear theirs and treat them like friends and they will become so. You as a person can enrich the stay of your guests and if you are running the homestay, you must become its face. This is what distinguishes a place when it is infused by the character of the owner rather than one run just by employees where the owner is absent.
Who is visiting and why?
Earth Kitchen is located within an hour's drive from Bangalore so the majority of our guests are professionals looking for short, often weekend breaks where they don't want to do anything – just eat, sleep and go for long walks – so we have designed the experience keeping this in mind.
We did not build a swimming pool or a basketball court because our guests want peace and quiet, not a bunch of kids diving and splashing. We did not put TV's in the rooms because we don't want people watching the idiot box, but the trees and birds around. We built, large, airy rooms with high ceilings, original paintings and lots of light, so they can spend hours relaxing, reading or chatting without feeling cramped. We serve home-cooked, gourmet cuisine from across the world because our guests really appreciate good food.
We also put together a curated program of activities that we know our guests will love. From group packages to individual activities, guests can choose from a selection of things they might wish to do to unwind.
You too have to ask yourself: Who will be coming to stay with you, and why? Is your place near a highway, connecting two metros? You might be getting a lot of transit traffic. Is your place in the centre of town? You might be getting business travellers. Are you located in a historic place? A lot of tourists from out of town may be visiting you.
In summary, you do not need to compete with star hotels or commercial establishments when you start a homestay. In fact, try to move away from things these cookie cutter places offer and create something unique, something truly your own that creates an authentic experience. Because that is what your guests want.