Home Branding - redefining hospitality as part of responsible tourism


By

Devaki R Menon
Research Associate
Icfai National College
Kozhikode
 


Abstract
As tourism is becoming the prime contributor to the growth of the economy, the government is taking efforts to promote tourism and provide tourists the best in hospitality services. The Kerala Tourism Development Cooperation has started taking initiatives towards the realization of responsible tourism in Kerala in the case of ayurveda, houseboats and home-stays. The article focuses on the concept of home-stay, the package, price, place and promotion aspects which will give an experiential vacation to the travellers. It describes on how the initiatives taken by Kerala Tourism becomes worthwhile for the visitors as well as for the people of Kerala.


Introduction

Home-stay is an emerging concept in tourism & hospitality industry which is also considered to be the best alternative to hotel accommodation. Home-stay in Kerala is the unsurpassed option to explore the beauty of the land universally called God's own Country around the world. Home stay helps you come across land, people, culture and cuisine of any place in its perfect aspect unlike hotel accommodation. Different types of houses are converted to home-stay like heritage homes, farm houses, estate bungalows, ancestral homes like mana, illam, naalukettu, etc. that gives a pleasant stay away from busy towns and cities but near to places of tourist attractions. The Kerala Tourism Development Corporation is promoting the development of quality home-stays contributing to conserve the local cultural and natural heritage at the same time ensuring sustained income to the local population.

"A memory we can take with us always and that we can take to France"
                                                                                                 Mr. Gabriel, France

"A fascinating experience, thank you for your kindness"
                                                                          Mr. Nicole, Switzerland.

"Thank you very much for this peaceful and nice place. The tender coconut so delicious."
                                                                                                        Mr. and Mrs. Phillippe, Paris.

These are the musings of some of the tourists who spent a day at a farm house in Kerala. 

Branding is all about creating a unique identity and position for products and services. Home branding is about creating an identity and image for your home by offering classic services at home.

If you have a small house in the land of coconuts and a great mind to treat guests, you can bring home a new beginning, a wonderful experience which you and your guests have never experienced before. Many families in Kerala are experiencing a unique feeling being with foreign travellers who visit the God's own country. The guests enjoy a picnic at a home away from home. This is the concept of home-stay which had emerged in the recent past and is now flourishing as one of the loveliest hospitality part of tourism.

Kerala is well known for being the most sought after tourist destination in the world for quite a long time, however, it is the innovative marketing strategies taken by Kerala Tourism Development Cooperation (KTDC)
that has kept the momentum swinging in favour of Kerala. Responsible tourism has become an important aspect for the growth and reputation of Kerala Tourism. Responsible Tourism (RT) demands a change of attitude on the part of tourism service providers, the visitors and also the local community.

Hospitality and Tourism are two sides of the same coin. Tourists who visit any of the tourist destinations give more importance to their place of stay. Foreign travellers who come to Kerala come not only to enjoy the beauty of the state but also to experience the tradition, culture and cuisine. The developments of home-stay in few places which are near to tourist places have increased the percentage of foreign tourist arrivals to the state.

The hospitality component of the industry provides a wide range of services to both visitors and local residents including hotels, motels, restaurants, clubs, casinos and other places. The essential feature of tourism and hospitality is the stay that the travellers undertake for a period of 24 hours to 6 months. Although travelers may sometimes undertake a brief tour, like a picnic or an outing, if it does not involve night stay, this process will not be considered as tourism.

Now the Kerala Tourism department had taken initiatives to promote home-stay units by approving and classifying them based on certain set standards by the government. Also the tourism department is encouraging establishment of home-stay by families in every district to attract more tourists and increase the tourist destinations and other attractions. This also helps the local residents to earn additional income and this ultimately will increase the foreign reserves of the state. Tourists, especially the foreigners prefer to stay at home with minimum facilities. The tourism department is also finding a way to provide quality accommodation at cheaper tariffs. Staying at home with a family gives them a delightful experience unlike getting accommodation in a five star hotel or in a resort.

The physical service environment also plays a major role in shaping the service experience and delivering customer satisfaction. Service environments are also called servicescapes which accounts to the style and appearance of the physical surroundings and other experiential factors that customers come across at the service delivery sites. Designing the service environment is an art that takes considerable time and effort and is expensive to implement. The service environment accompanied by the hospitality provides the customer a different experience. Every home-stay unit will preserve an identity of its own depending up on the type of home, the facilities provided, its surroundings and the services provided by the host. Each home-stay unit can create a brand identity with the traditional names or an attractive name that one gives to their home, caption, location, appearance and other attractions.

HR Initiatives

Kerala Tourism has launched 'Let's Learn' Programme which aims at skill upgradation and capacity building of the personnel involved in tourism and hospitality sector. As part of such an initiative, the objective of the training is to impart the right approach and conduct required for the personnel in hospitality sector of the state. This would definitely contribute to the growth of tourism in Kerala. As tourism based on home-stay has been catching attention, the tourism department has decided to go in for a classification of the home-stay operations in the state. Awareness sessions were also conducted for the home-stay operators and tourists during the launch of classification scheme at Cochin.

Experience Factors

Besides staying at home with a family, there are other things that the tourists enjoy which really adds value to their experience. Such a kind of an environment is available along with the package which is enjoyed by the tourists such as fishing, bird watching, bicycle riding through the country side, trekking in near by forests and hills, toddy tapping, pot-making, elephant riding, local-art performances on request, and many others depending up on the places.

Packaging the service

The home-stay units are selected and classified by the committee appointed by the government based on the location of the house, quality of the house, surrounding areas in terms of facilities and hygiene for offering to the tourists, access, educational and professional background of the applicant and family members and the tourist attraction of the area. Facilities based on requirements of the tourists are also provided at the place of stay. The committee visits the unit and if satisfied with the terms and conditions, they recommend the department of tourism for classification of the unit. Home-stay units are classified as

Diamond House (Class A)
Golden House (Class B)
Silver House (Class C)

It is mandatory that the home-stay unit should be a house where the owner with his family resides permanently. Minimum one room or maximum of 6 rooms can be let for the home-stay purpose. As the traveler lives with the family for a part of their trip and they are there to experience the joy and richness of other cultures and customs different from theirs, it is the responsibility of the host to treat them at their best so that the guest experiences life as it is lived day to day in the host country.

The rooms that are converted for the purpose of letting as home-stay can be well-arranged and decorated to make it appealing. But always the hosts should remember that the tourists are staying at home to experience the natural beauty of the place. Hence we should try to keep the things as natural as it is, rather than going for artificial settings. Providing them maximum natural facilities would add to the attractiveness of your home and that exhilarates and enamours the guest. The home-stay units are recognized by the government to make their trip a memorable experience.

Pricing

Kerala has large number of well constructed estate bungalows, heritage homes, farm houses and vacant houses owned by NRIs where there are sufficient rooms for converting them to tourist accommodation with minimal modifications. The only cost involved by the operators is modifications done to the already existing building or a single room of theirs. The price varies depending up on the classification, location, facilities provided, quality of service, nature of the house and the food served. The tourists charge a reasonable price by the home-stay operators and they earn additional income. As tourism has been recognized as an important sector for the development of the state on account of its potential for generating income and employment, this is a way Kerala Tourism had shown to the common man on how to generate income by marketing their own home.

Place

The Tourism department is encouraging people to start home-stay operations in many parts of the state by providing them support to get financial assistance for the establishment of a unit or conversion of a room in to a home-stay accommodation. Now home-stay units are flourishing in various parts of every district which are located near to places of tourist attractions. Besides the conventional modes of promotional activities, IT-enabled Kerala Tourism is also developed for new ways and means to reach its target audience and interact with them more effectively and convincingly.

Promoting

The marketing support will be provided to the home-stay units  under the Kerala Tourism brand. Each unit operators have a website which will be linked to www.homestaykerala.com. Any tourists from any part of the world can access the link through the site and reserve rooms online. Those travelers who approach the Kerala Tourism Department during their tour will be directed to the home-stay units located near the places they visit. There is increasing recognition due to the significant shift from the predominance of the traditional sun, sand and sea holiday towards more experiential vacations. Travel is increasingly about 'experiences, fulfillment and rejuvenation' rather than about 'places and things'. Every home-stay unit linked to the website will become a global brand. The tourism department has estimated that there will be around 1500 classified home-stay units with approximately 5000 rooms in 5 years from now.

Ensuring customer delight

Home-stay is a kind of accommodation that provides guests a safe, secure and caring home away from home.  Primary importance is maintaining a clean and hygiene environment. The home-stay operators should ensure the safety and security of the guests. Quality and delicious food is to be served to the guests. The owner and the family must see that the guests are entertained, respected and guided properly to their places of visit. Interaction with the family members is very important in such situations. The family members should have a friendly approach to the guests but without interfering or forcing them to go to places which are of no interest to them. From the time of arrival till they leave your house you have to see that they enjoyed and liked their place of stay. Additional facilities like pick and drop and guidance on tourist places can be provided by the home-stay operators.

Trend Setter

Home-stay in Kerala has also become a trend among students from other countries. Recently a group of agriculture students from Eastern Mennonite University had a visit to the villages in Thrissur district of Kerala with the objective of learning farming techniques. According to them they find the traditional farming techniques used here are eco friendly and can be put to use in West in the same pattern.  They got a first hand experience in planting seedlings, ploughing the fields using buffalos, and use of traditional water-wheel. Through this way students get an opportunity to live in a friendly home and experience the village life .They felt how difficult it is to grow rice in the fields. Indian farming has become the latest tourist attraction for a group of American students while Kerala's farmers are turning away from paddy cultivation which was considered as the major cultivation of the state. Not only the tourists but also the students who are on their visits for study projects are also benefited by the home-stays.

Conclusion 

Home-stay helps the tourists to have a first hand experience of the rich culture and heritage of Kerala. It also allows cascading the benefit of tourism directly to the local population and empowering the common man in promotion of tourism in the state. Fortunately Kerala is ideally placed for offering such experiential vacations to the visitors by maintaining the unique identity. The implementation of 'Responsible Tourism' has emerged as the key to promote tourism for any destination. 

It's a prestige for Kerala as it hosts the Second International Conference on Responsible Tourism this month at Kochi. The first edition of the conference in 2002 was at Cape Town in South Africa, Kerala is chosen to be the second edition due to its earnest initiatives in the field of responsible tourism.

References

* Destination Branding an introduction; by Amit Kumar Singh, ICFAI University Press; 2007
* Tourism and Hospitality Services; by Keka Lahiri, ICFAI University Press; 2005
* Services Marketing; by Cristopher Lovelock, Jochen Wirtz, Pearson Education; 2004
* Official website of Kerala tourism www. Keralatourism.org , www.homestaykerala.com
* Personal Interaction with the home-stay operators
* Feedback given by travellers in home-stay operator's diary
 


Devaki R Menon
Research Associate
Icfai National College
Kozhikode
 

Source: E-mail March 18, 2008

          

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