Luxury homestay redefined: How homestays in India are now making it to the global tourist map

From a traveller’s point of view, amã Stays & Trails provides immersive and authentic local experiences to guests in picturesque destinations while opening up new locations to travel to.

Planning a safe and fun-filled homestay destination this festive season? “Nothing is keeping me in Seattle. I can draw anywhere”, Eleanor’s observation in Maria Semple’s second novel ‘Today Will Be Different’ is sure to resonate with travellers who want to unwind and take a leisurely break. Amidst the pandemic, the need to unwind through immersive travel experiences is key to one’s own happiness quotient in these highly uncertain times.

Logical questions emerge with regard to India’s travel and hospitality segment such as: Is hospitality a profitable industry? Is homestay profitable in India? Many are the reasons why homestay is better than hotels. Examine the level of detailing in personalising hospitality services as one aspect. Another aspect relates to sustaining the timescale and reach of immersive experiences that a traveller can enjoy during the day.

For instance, the ‘amã Stays & Trails’ guests in Munnar can go trout fishing which is an option that is otherwise available only in the Himalayas. In the world renowned Makaibari tea estate in Darjeeling, guests can learn tea tasting and the subtleties of the vintage teas that have been harvested at Makaibari for more than 159 years. In Coorg at the Pollibetta Bungalow, one can trek through the coffee plantations with a guide. For those pressed for time, locations like Lonavala, Khadakwasla, and Munnar provide helipads for chopper landing. amã Stays & Trails also offer EV charging stations at select locations.

What is the homestay concept?

The home stay concept is catching up in the post-pandemic scenario. Why? Simple. Now, travellers want to enjoy all the comforts they have at home but the home stay becomes an immersive experience in a leisure destination of their choice. The idea of being where you want to explore is a feeling that leads to an experience. Travellers can approach homestays with specific and unique requirements as well and engage in a more personalised way as compared to hotels.

Speaking exclusively to Financial Express Online, Sarabjeet Singh, Head of Expressions, IHCL observes, “In February 2019, when we launched ‘amã Stays & Trails’, it was the first branded product in the fast-growing homestay market in India. As a pioneer in Indian hospitality, IHCL has put many destinations like Rajasthan, Kerala, Goa, Andamans, and more recently, North-East India, on the global tourist map. As a company we have always believed in creating destinations and the business model of “amã” gives us access to lesser known places by providing accommodation in areas where it isn’t yet economically viable to build big resorts or hotels.”

Terming this move as a step towards ‘tapping into the potential of India’s growing homestay segment,” IHCL’s Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer Puneet Chhatwal emphasises that each homestay brings alive the local culture and heritage of the destination through a plethora of immersive and authentic experiences such as regional cuisine specialties, outdoor activities and lesser known destinations that travellers can explore.

Is homestay safe in India?

Well-established and trusted hospitality brands make homestay a safe and authentic experience for travellers. In this context, amã Stays & Trails crossed a notable milestone of 50 bungalows combined with seven brand new signings across the country spanning Nature-centric locations such as Lonavala, Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani, among others.

From a traveller’s point of view, amã Stays & Trails provides immersive and authentic local experiences to guests in picturesque destinations while opening up new locations to travel to. For Indian travellers who choose homestays during their travels, having the option of a trusted brand makes all the difference.

This is the key point that Sarabjeet Singh, Head of Expressions, IHCL emphasises, “We have evolved a hub-and-spoke model where every amã bungalow is supported by a nearby IHCL hotel in each region providing the assurance of safe and bespoke service together with IHCL’s stringent standards of hygiene, safety, and security across all its properties. During the pandemic, we saw consumer sentiment and behaviour gravitating towards “bubble holidays”, with a strong preference for private stays, factoring in safety and social distancing measures. amã bungalows present in off-beat locations within driving distances of major urban hubs, offer travellers personalized services inclusive of stay, all meals, a dedicated on-site Chef and highly trained service staff.”

Another advantage for pet owners is that all amã bungalows are pet friendly.

Homestay in India: A growing market for alternate accommodation

Wondering how fast is the hospitality industry growing or asking yourself ‘How can I book a homestay in India?’ The options are plenty, so are the authentic travel experiences.

“We diversified our offerings to tap into the potential of the growing market for alternative accommodation, which today is in its nascent stage but is already growing to play a significant role in various markets. Having started the journey with nine heritage bungalows under a management contract in Coorg and Chikmagalur, the amã portfolio has today grown to 51 bungalows across leisure destinations including Goa, Alleppey, Trivandrum, Lonavala, Khadakwasla, Madh Island, Munnar, Darjeeling and Alibaug among others. By 2025 we are targeting a portfolio of 500 ama bungalows on management contracts. It is a great business proposition for home owners too. amã provides them a platform to monetize their asset and convert it into a profit- making business managed by IHCL,” Sarabjeet Singh tells Financial Express Online.

Currently, the ‘amã Stays & Trails’ brand has a portfolio of 51 bungalows and villas including 18 under development.

Clearly, a country as diverse and breathtakingly vibrant as India has much to offer and grow in the category of homestays. For Indian travellers exploring scenic and safe destinations, this is all about figuring out how to optimise their travel experiences to the fullest.

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