Host a Tourist and make millions
posted on Friday, May 25, 2007 10:56 AM
Money Magazine Cover Story - Host A Tourist And Get Rich
By: Waruguru Muchira
Home stays are increasingly turning into a serious source of revenue for many tourist agents and hosts, writes WARUGURU MUCHIRA
Six million shillings is not a small amount in a small economy like Kenya, where half the population struggles to earn Sh100 in a day. That's why making this six-figure sum in less than 10 days, at a not-so-big event, verges on fiction.
But that's a fete Peter Ongera just smiles away. He is still beaming from his recent business success at the World Social Forum, which ended in Nairobi a fortnight ago, where he estimates to have more than Sh6 million in just 10 days. Had all gone well, he says, he would have raked in upwards of Sh25 million.
Mr Ongera is, however, smarting from the virtual loss of Sh21 million that he had anticipated from the initial number of bookings.
All this came about through the organisation he runs, African Home Stay Services. The business, as the name suggests, deals in a branch of tourism that is fast gaining currency among in the country, where tourists from abroad pay to stay in the homes of local hosts, including in the villages.
It's one of the best ways of learning someone's culture because, Mr Ongera says, you eat what they eat, sleep where they sleep ; enjoy their whole lifestyle. Besides that, the mwananchi is able to make some extra money without incurring high costs.
By playing agent for tourists by linking them to their preferred hosts and managing their logistics , he has proved that there is big money in home stays, and functions like the World Social Forum are lucrative hunting grounds.
For African Home Stays Services, there is an upfront cash agreement to minimise cases of defaulting.
While in college, he took his first guest to his lecturer's house. He paid $5 per day, and when he went back home, he sent nine other people, he recalls.
"For this group, I had to look for homes in Nairobi. I found friends who were willing so the guests would pay me and I pay them (the hosts).
The fee has now increased to $20 per day, which is what he advertised as the home stay package for the World Social Forum on his website. By October 2006, he had 1,500 online requests, but only 450 eventually confirmed. He makes a 20 per cent commission by earning 10 per cent apiece from the host the guest for his administration costs.
The idea of home stays could be relatively new, but is nothing new to certain members of the Taita Taveta community who regularly host visitors from Finland. According to Donald Mombo of Kecobat, he first encountered the concept in 1989, when a tour operator was confronted by a group of 30 students from Helsinki University that wanted to stay in the community.
In 2004, one of the students who had by then become a professor returned with another group of 30, having treasured the experience he had had as a student all those years. This time, there was a chance to identify homes with good pit latrines, sound hygiene and other factors. Since then, the community is receiving more and more students every year, which has led to a flourishing relationship between the two.
According to Ole Taiko, also of Kecobat, home stays, or cultural tourism, enable the gains from tourism, a Sh50 billion shilling industry, to trickle down to the ordinary people.
At a media briefing on January 31, Dr Ongongâ Ochieng, managing director of the Kenya Tourist Board, announced tourism earnings in 2006 amounted to Sh56.2 billion, a growth of 15 per cent from Sh48.9 billion achieved in 2005.
Among the challenges to further growth of the market is limited bed capacity, which creates a gap that home stays are coming in to fill. Currently, the number of classified touristic beds is 39,321, he said, adding that with current demand estimated at an annual average of 20 per cent, Kenya's hotel sub-sector requires an additional 20,840 classified beds to be built over a five years to meet the anticipated demand.
It is anticipated that such additional classified beds would spread to the already opened up new circuits like the Western Kenya Circuit, North-Rift and the Mount Kenya Tourism Circuit.
The will is there and the resources are there. But how many families can come up with accommodation for the tourist to appreciate? poses Mr Taiko. He points out that with a degree of training among the hosts in the different communities, the concept would be a huge boost for the industry and a good source of income for hosts.
Other countries have come up with training policies, where rather than having to visit a school setting, the trainer can visit the individuals, changing skills and educating them to run these establishments, he observes.
He points out that another factor that contributes to slow development in home stays is lack of legislation.The policy environment is lacking and so is the will of the Government to get involved in the process that recruits communities into tourism.
At the moment, tourism is viewed in terms of the big establishments like lodges, hotels and tour operators, "yet we fail to realise that tourism is a unique product and the only export product consumed at the point of production.
As such, Mr Taiko, points out, it is an immense opportunity to use this as a poverty eradication tool, "because it is available in remote rural areas where even the villagers can participate in it without having to fill in numerous forms and pay for numerous licences"
By the time it can begin operations, a hotel will, for example, be required to take up at least six different licences, each with a separate fee. the one factor that makes it difficult for the small and medium size enterprises to flourish in the sector.
Mr Ongera, who has been in the business since 1994 when he was still a student at Egerton University, started off with one client, a Japanese, after visiting the country on an exchange programme, where he experienced the home stay concept. This increased to 20 Japanese in 1995 and in the following year, after travelling to Canada, he hosted 22 Canadians.
He travelled to Wisconsin later in 1997 and there he earned a contract to organise the stay of 16 visiting students annually. "So now I decided to use the Internet", he explains, "this has given us a lot of business. I get 40 clients every month.
Ongera, however, has never had any problem with the policies, or lack thereof. It's very new here, he says. In other countries they have regulations and policies. In Kenya you'd be shocked that there are as many as 50 home stay agencies, but you may not know where they are.
He pays an annual fee of Sh20,000 to the Kenya Tourist Development Corporation, but we could not independently confirm this even at the Ministry of Tourism.
Mr Mombo points out that there is no standard fee for hosting the guests. They agree on something that is reasonable to the two parties : they will stay there, be a part of the family, cook and get assimilated. Even if they do not pay a fee, he says, they always leave a generous token.
For Francisca Ogonda of Togo Consultants, which claims to have made huge losses during the World Social Forum, this was no her first time in the business, as she did home stays in the mid 90s. I didn't make money. Everyone lost money, but I don't want to dwell on it so much,she says, I think what I want to bring out is why can we do things in an orderly way.
Home stays is not Ms Oganda main line of business. Her initial interest was in organising the forum, until the idea of housing delegates was put to her.
She then recruited 40 agents, looking at an average of 200 hundred beds, per agent. With such large numbers to manage, she prepared a set of requirements for the host families, which can serve as a guideline for anyone interested in pursuing the business.
The contract detailed a bed, with beddings, in a private room. Preparation of an adequate breakfast was also required along with running water and electricity. The house should be self-contained, as he or she should live within the family environment. In addition, the house must be hygienically clean and reasonably secure, with easy access to a main road.
I did random checks on the different houses in the 23 or so zones I had identified, she explains. While they did not need to, many homes went out of their way to spruce up the households, some repainting their houses or getting new mattresses.
There was great thought put into it, I didn't just wake up and get hit by lighting, she explains, bothered by the fact someone diverted her guests at the last minute. However, Mr Ongera insists you need not change your lifestyle to accommodate a tourist. If you take tea and bread for breakfast, give them that. If it is githeri or ugali you have at lunch and dinner, give them that. Don't adjust anything.He says the best way to judge a host is by asking the simple question, If I came to your place, where would I sleep?
Mr Mombo says that to capitalise on the home stays, the Taita Taveta Wildlife Forum identified 30 houses with a view to developing them, training them to cook and serve, how to clean and ensuring they were well ventilated.
To add value to the experience, the further trained local guides on the flora and fauna in Mbololo Forest which is rich in biodiversity. They also trained them in communicating the product.
Home stays are a noble thing, says Ms Ogonda, they promote cultural tourism, and there are many tourists sick and tired of seeing animals. They want to meet people, relate with them and integrate.
To do so requires a certain level of marketing and both Mr Ongera and Ms Ogonda are utilising the Internet for this. Kecobat is also looking at creating a website where different communities will register their presence on the Internet.
However, Mr Ongera adds that the home stay agent must have an item in the package that is tempting and unique, so as to engage the tourists' interest.
This is something we need to promote and encourage our people to venture into,says Ogonda, âm going back to it. I have a database of 2000 families and I don't see why it should go to waste.
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