Flavio Roberto, a tourist from Italy, is visiting the UAE for the first time. “While I like the skyscrapers, restaurants, malls and roads in the country, what I love best is my stay in a quiet corner of Masafi ( a village around two hours from Dubai). Living here in natural, unspoilt settings has opened my eyes to the beauty and rich history of the country. The cottage I stay in may not be state-of-the-art, but it has made me feel welcome in a way that nothing else has,” he points out.
Many travelers like Flavio prefer to go deep into the heart of a place, savour the local cuisine, stay with natives and be a part of the culture and heritage of the city, wherever they go. This has led to the growth of homestays, which provide travelers a unique opportunity to experience life as it is lived in different parts of the world, at affordable prices.
The UAE homestay market
Although the idea of homestays is not new, the trend is catching up in the UAE now, with the number of visitors to the country on the rise and the demand for affordable, authentic experiences taking centerstage. In fact, visitors are deliberately ditching hotel stays in major cities for quiet abodes in the village or the desert, where they can have a better ‘feel’ of the place. Then again, UAE being a major tourist destination with a reputation for warm hospitality, many visitors use it as a base to live for a while and explore the rest of the region.
“Homestay is a very clearly different product experience from the usual hotel chains,” says Nakul Sharma, CEO and founder of Hostmaker, a leading European home rental management company that recently launched operations in Dubai. “Hotels are usually meant for corporates, while homestays are meant for leisure travelers, couples and casual visitors. The homestay segment is underserved, especially in the region, and the irony is that there is a huge demand for this. Also, with Expo 2020 looming on the horizon, affordable stays are going to be very much in demand.”
Homestay vs AirBnB
Homestays, like AirnBnB, can be accessed online or via apps, but where they differ is that homestay guests are always lodged with a host family, while AirBnB guests can choose to rent private spaces as well, without a host. AirBnB is an affordable alternative to a hotel, while homestays are exactly what they mean: stay at home. The host can offer anything from a couch in the living room, to a spare bedroom or sometimes even a whole house. AirBnB does not require that the hosts interact with the guests. In fact, guests are just given a code to get into the property and then are pretty much left on their own. In homestays, however, the guest becomes part of the host’s family, interacting, living and eating with them for the entire length of the stay.
Why are they popular?
Homestays are the best way to get under the skin of a city, and for a travel enthusiast, there is no better way to bond with the place. A local can give you insights and unusual pieces of information about a place that no mainstream hotel or tour guide can give. Staying with a local is the ultimate insider’s guide-they will provide you with tips and tricks to navigate the city. Homestays are also the preferred choice for their affordability. “Not everyone can go to beach resorts or desert camps or fancy hotel chains to experience the culture of the place. Most people prefer something affordable where they can quietly spend a few days and go back,” Sharma adds.
Authentic, homemade cuisine, free language lessons from the locals one is staying with-they’re all possible at a homestay. Then again, the experience is open to anyone on budget-students, backpackers, travelers on vacation- making its appeal universal.
The homestay market is all set to grow in the UAE, with short-term rentals gaining traction. A report on Dubai Holiday Homes by Knight Frank states that Dubai’s holiday home market accounts for 2.0% of Dubai’s total households, the highest proportion of all other key global hub cities. ‘When comparing achievable rates between Dubai’s holiday homes and hotels we continue to witness the holiday home market outperform the hotel market by 64% year-to-date June 2018,’ the report states.
While homestays may not be able to compete with their grander hotel counterparts as far as facilities and infrastructure go, the experiences they provide are unmatched, and are here to stay. For whether it’s central London or an outback in Australia or the smooth, sleek roads of Dubai-who doesn’t like to feel at home wherever they go?