Homestays offer a taste of local life
Homestays offer guests the chance to experience Vietnam away from a hotel or resort and have found favor among local homeowners with room to spare.
After her sister’s family moved out, Ms. Tu Dao had three rooms available in her house. Rather than look for new housemates, she decided to make her house a homestay.
The idea came to her after she noticed there were more and more homestays being offered in Hanoi, and she saw it as a good opportunity to earn some money.
Thousands of local residents are also taking up the opportunity to provide homestay services as a way of earning more income, which is also providing more homestay options in the country.
First appearing in Vietnam in the 1990s, a few years after the country applied policies to open up its economy, homestay services were offered by residents at a few tourist destinations in mountainous areas where there was lack of hotels and resorts, such as Mai Chau district in northern Hoa Binh province and Sapa in northern Lao Cai province.
Homestays were still uncommon in the country many years later and only started to take off about two years ago, increasing in a number tourist destinations such as Hue, Da Nang, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Vung Tau, Phan Thiet, and especially Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
According to the latest figures from rental data and analytics firm AirDNA, the number of homestays in Hanoi increased from 3,200 in 2016 to more than 8,100 in 2017 and stood at 11,200 in the first half of 2018. Meanwhile, the number in Ho Chi Minh City soared from 6,200 to 15,000 and over 20,000 in the same periods.
Vietnam catered to more than 80 million domestic visitors and 15.5 million international tourists last year, with the latter up three-fold since 2010, with many choosing homestays as their favorite accommodation type.
Only two days after listing her homestay on Airbnb, Ms. Dao, a 37-year-old content writer, received a booking for one week despite having no ratings or reviews. A few days later, she received two more bookings, each for a one-month stay.
“I think if you have a good place and a price that matches the budgets of travelers, they will take it,” she told VET.
Offering basic bed and breakfast at a cheaper price than traditional hotels, of VND300,000-500,000 ($13-21.5) per night for a room, another appeal of homestays is the opportunity to learn about local life and culture, most travelers agree.
The commonality in homestays is a nice house in a handy location that allows for exploration. For example, Ms. Dao’s Small Hanoi Homestay West Lake is in a French-style house near West Lake in the capital with a range of street food and convenience stores nearby, while Thiec Homestay, another outstanding homestay in the Old Quarter, is in an old Indochinese-style apartment building from the early 20th century.
“Homestays are firstly a house that feels like a home,” Ms. Dao said.
“I just added some standard amenities and kept everything the same as when people lived here. This is much better for those who want to experience daily life in Vietnam.”
In order to help guests experience more of the local life and culture, homestay owners also offer activities such as cooking classes, visits to local craft villages, and bicycle or motorbike tours, among others.
Along with more income, offering homestay services is also a source of pride for owners, as they introduce the local culture and national characteristics to visitors, especially foreigners, according to Mr. Doan Manh, a 32-year-old director of a design company and owner of Thiec Homestay. It also provides a chance for not only the guests but also the host to learn about different cultures.
“Some 90 per cent of my guests are foreigners and each comes with a different culture and interesting tales,” he said. “I can also practice my English skills, which have improved greatly since I opened the homestay.”
Airbnb seems to be the most popular site for local homestay providers and helps them reach an occupancy rate of 70-80 per cent. Both Ms. Dao and Mr. Manh said that they would soon join other booking sites such as Homestay, HomeExchange, Agoda, Booking, Traveloka, and Luxstay. “I expect to welcome even more guests after that,” Ms. Dao said.
NEAR OR FAR
Besides the quest for deeper cultural discovery, a new experience in old destinations is another attraction of homestays, particularly for young Vietnamese.
Busy with his job as a salesman for an insurance company in Ho Chi Minh City, 35-year-old Manh Cuong can’t take too many long holidays with his family. Instead, he finds places nearby every now and then to get away for a weekend. In the last two years he’s headed to nice homestays in or just a little outside the city, with a nice design or great natural surroundings.
“We stayed at The River Cottage in District 2 last month,” he said. “It was really a good break from the stress of work and we enjoyed peaceful moments in a wooden house by a lake. It was still in the city, but felt like a trip away.”
Many people are like Mr. Cuong and seek short vacations for a relaxing escape, Mr. Manh said. This encourages homestay hosts to invest in their accommodation to offer something unique and compete with the increasing number of homestays and traditional hotels.
After his success with Thiec Homestay, he then opened LalaStay in Lac village in Hoa Binh’s Mai Chau district, using the architecture and décor found in Thai ethnic minority people’s housing. “I want to offer a small museum of the local Thai ethnic people and an arts destination for visitors to learn and experience their culture,” he said.
Multi-style homestays are now available in many places. With just a click on a booking site, it’s easy for foreign tourists to enjoy a charming “home away from home” or for local people to spend time in-country at a homestay featuring vintage architecture or a European style, a Japanese-style garden house, or somewhere with nice city or lake views.
“Traditional hotels have become stereotypes, as they generally offer similar rooms but little else,” said Ms. Hong Ngan, a 28-year-old office worker from Hanoi who travels a lot and usually prefers homestays. “With their various styles, homestays are simply more interesting.”
These beautiful and impressive homestays offer not only a nice break but also good photo opportunities. In the era of technology and social media, when many people find pleasure from taking photos and selfies to “check-in” at a nice place, many hosts invest more in their house to turn it into two-in-one service, offering both a stay and a “photo studio”.
Ms. Ngan has visited Da Lat several times and has never become bored, as she is usually content with the pretty homestays now available in the old central highlands’ town.
“Every homestay in Da Lat has a different style, thanks to the fine French architecture built in days long gone and the poetic landscape of hills and forests,” she said. “They all offer charming backdrops for photos of the town.”
There will be even more homestays in Vietnam in the future and the competition is set to heat up, hosts agree, and they will need to offer more than just accommodation. “Homestays are still developing spontaneously,” Mr. Manh said.
“But having a house doesn’t necessarily mean you can offer homestay services. The house needs to have its own characteristics and services at the same level as a hotel. I believe that homestays will develop more professionally and that only the good ones will ‘stay’.” " VN Economic Times