Embracing authenticity in India’s tourism landscape


Dr Jeet Dogra
In the kaleidoscope of India’s tourism industry, homestays have emerged as beacons of authenticity, offering travelers immersive experiences that transcend the mundane. As tourists increasingly seek personalized encounters and cultural immersion, the allure of homestays has grown exponentially, reshaping the very fabric of hospitality.
Gone are the days when travelers confined themselves to cookie-cutter hotels; today’s discerning explorers crave authentic experiences that forge lasting connections with destinations. Enter homestays – a burgeoning trend in the tourism sphere, offering a tapestry of unique encounters steeped in local culture and heritage. Factors such as personalized service, safety, and affordability have propelled homestays to the forefront of travelers’ preferences, heralding a paradigm shift in accommodation choices.
Homestays serve as potent catalysts for destination branding, infusing narratives of authenticity and cultural richness into the tourism tapestry. The integration of local heritage and traditions within homestay offerings not only entices travelers but also fosters a deeper appreciation for the destination’s ethos. By providing a “home away from home” ambiance, homestays evoke a sense of belonging, imprinting indelible memories on visitors’ hearts and minds.
Homestays across various regions showcase their diverse contributions to tourism and local economies. In Kerala, they attract experiential travelers seeking authentic socio-cultural immersion, bolstering sustainable tourism growth. In Meghalaya’s tea gardens, homestays address socioeconomic issues by providing additional income opportunities. Near the India-Pakistan border in Jammu and Kashmir’s Samba district, homestays promote border tourism while supporting local livelihoods. However, challenges persist, as seen in Ujjain where authorities canceled registrations due to hygiene violations, underscoring the need for regulatory oversight. MakeMyTrip’s strategic focus on corporate intercity travel and homestays reflects industry shifts towards diversification. Meanwhile, homestays in Bastar offer immersive experiences in tribal communities, highlighting cultural richness. In Ooty, the historic Kelso House preserves colonial charm, attracting travelers seeking tranquility amidst nature. Despite challenges faced in Heyuan, China, the development of homestays in Langkawi, Malaysia, illustrates shifting demographics and preferences towards nature-based experiences.
According to the survey conducted on homestays in India between 2019 and 2020 (published by Statista in August 2023) about 28 percent of the homestays had four rooms. Additionally, only seven percent of the homestays had more than six rooms in the country. This data underscores the prevalence of small-scale homestay businesses in India, with the majority offering fewer than six rooms. Such findings highlight the trend towards personalized and intimate accommodation experiences sought by travelers in the Indian tourism market.
Recognizing the pivotal role of homestays in fostering tourism growth, the Indian government has embarked on initiatives to bolster their visibility and quality standards. The 11th India Tourism Mart (ITM) at Shillong, serving as a nexus for industry stakeholders, seeks to amplify the reach of homestays on a global scale. Through regulatory measures and capacity-building programs, authorities aim to ensure that homestays adhere to stringent hygiene and safety protocols, safeguarding the interests of both guests and hosts.
Despite their myriad benefits, homestays grapple with challenges such as maintaining authenticity amidst commercialization and ensuring equitable distribution of economic benefits. Nevertheless, these challenges present opportunities for innovation and collaboration, paving the way for a more inclusive and sustainable tourism landscape.
Additionally, the National Strategy for Promotion of Rural Homestays 2022 by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India outlines a comprehensive approach to promoting and supporting the development of rural homestays in India. This strategy emphasizes enhancing rural livelihoods, promoting community participation, conserving local culture and heritage, and providing authentic experiences for tourists. The policy also emphasizes on the need for consideration of eligible Rural Homestay projects under schemes such as Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP) to promote self-employment, village industries and other schemes for promotion and development of MSME service enterprises under Central and State Governments.
Additionally, Ministry of Tourism under its Capacity Building for Service Providers (CBSP) scheme has introduced a 150-hour Homestay course as a part of its reforms keeping in view the dynamic inputs received from the sector on the skill gap. The objective of the training program is to train those aspiring youth and homestay owners who have the potential to develop the Homestay business in the tourist spots across pan India including rural and inaccessible hilly areas. This program creates a sense of professionalism, high end skills in operation of homestay which result into endless number of sustainable Human Resource in tourism industry. In the NIDHI (National Integrated Database of Hospitality Industry) portal, the accommodation units cannot be segregated into small and big hotels including homestays during the registration stage.
In essence, homestays epitomize the essence of experiential travel, offering a portal to the soul of India’s diverse cultural tapestry. As travelers traverse the length and breadth of the country, each homestay becomes a chapter in their journey – a testament to the warmth of Indian hospitality and the richness of its cultural heritage. As we embark on this odyssey of discovery, let us embrace the transformative power of homestays, for therein lies the true essence of travel – a journey of the heart and soul.
(The author is Assistant Professor, Indian Institute of Tourism & Travel Management (IITTM), NOIDA)