Blunt-smoking backpackers to insensitive visitors give homestay operators a host of reasons to say please don’t come back again.
Ali Sadique Saj gears up for a few sleepless nights every time a foreign woman tourist turns up alone at his homestay.
It’s they who have given him trouble during his six years of running a homestay at Fort Kochi.
“Such solitary travellers are targeted by local youngsters who try to woo them with drugs, alcohol and whatnot. Some of the visitors fall for such company and move around with them, returning to the homestay at odd hours. There have been even occasions when I had to intervene to stop some of these youngsters from tailing the lady to the room,” he says.
Mr Saj runs the homestay alongside his house where his family, including two daughters, live; and is firm in not allowing “undesirable practices”.
Though he clearly tells his visitors that the doors will be closed at 10 p.m. and that they will have to contact the security if they return after that, it has not been always effective.
Sometimes the foreign visitors take up the case of their local friends, leaving the operator in a dilemma. “What we do is to try to talk them out of such company by being firm but not sounding harsh either, as reputation is built on visitors’ opinions. So we spin tales of how visitors lost their valuables to conmen. Some will back out but some others will continue to hang out with the same company,” says Mr. Saj.
And when it comes to booze, it is barred. Demands for drinks are rather rooted to nearby bars or beer parlours, says Mr. Saj.
Most homestay operators prefer to host foreign visitors over domestic tourists, especially those from North India who come across as too noisy for the comfort of the likes of Mr. Saj and their families.
Running a business, as in any other part of the State, is all about manoeuvring away from people trying to rip you off. “Some auto drivers ask commission for dropping customers at our homestay when in reality they are already our clients who have made advance reservation through online,” says Mr. Saj.
Seema Manaf, who runs a homestay at Kacherippady, has not encountered any serious problems during her six years in the business. “It may be because we don’t entertain backpackers who often create most of the trouble,” she said.
David Lawrence, who claims to have opened the first homestay in Fort Kochi 18 years ago, agrees that backpackers who come with meagre budget during the lean season bring in a litany of troubles.
“We used to entertain such visitors when we started off, but not any more. At that time the quality of our facilities was not that good and most of the visitors to this part were also backpackers,” he said.
While there haven’t been many drinking-related incidents, backpackers smoking marijuana and scantily clad women have been a real challenge to a family-driven business like homestays. “Then there are young couples from abroad with scant regard for the local culture who roam around and return at odd hours often, leaving us concerned about their safety,” says Mr. Lawrence.
Visitors who make online reservation only to dishonour it in the last minute also leave many homestay operators in the lurch.
“The arguments often end up with the visitors threatening to sully our image through reviews in TripAdvisor, a popular travel website,” says Mr. Lawrence.
Aby Arakal, who has been running a homestay in Alappuzha for the last 12 years, says he hasn’t faced any serious problems over the years except for demands that were too luxurious to be met by a mid-segment homestay. “There has been this rare incident in which a Polish visitor cheated us without paying the full due,” he says.
P.N. Prasannakumar, chairman of Kerala Homestay and Tourism Society, says the biggest challenge faced by homestay operators is the perception the public has about them. “People still see this as some kind of a shady business. That perception needs to be changed through proper awareness of the business, which besides generating foreign exchange facilitates cultural exchange as well,” he says.