Why homestays in Chennai appear poised for a very bright future


Homestays offer a personal experience and homely atmosphere that helps tourists see the city in a new light. Pic: Pushpendra Shukla

Devesh Patil from Mumbai had an option to stay in a hotel when he was travelling to Chennai but opted for a homestay as he had heard so much about it. Today, he swears by it. This is a trend that has caught the fancy of the millennials as they say it is less expensive, has the home away from home” feeling and is often more locally situated compared to a remotely located budget hotel.

Homestays, as they are called today, are not really new in India. As the age-old saying, “Atithi Devo Bhava” (Guests are God) indicates, a traveller in the ancient days would always be welcomed, offered food and a place to stay without a second thought.

This concept regained momentum in the early 1990s, where homes would be offered to tourists visiting Ooty or the then remotely accessible Coorg. Goa and Kerala latched on to it, and many in attractive tourist spots in these states made a money-spinning machine out of their homes and boats.

Enter the Uber of homestays

Airbnb revolutionized this world wide, and India too, about three years back. In 2016, they tempted the very conservative Indian to rent out his musty old palatial havelis, palaces and private bungalows/flats that were lying in disuse.

Proving the fact that money floats in the pudding, a recent survey by MakeMyTrip, shows an upward trend of 48% millennials opting for a homestay in India and overseas; one in every two Indian travellers are looking at homestays including villas, hostels or cottages rather than a traditional hotel.

“I had my beach house listed in AirBnB and found many takers. Prior to this I was only renting it out to corporate clients and the house was empty for large parts of the year. Now I am able to monetise it better with guests around the year. I’ve had to appoint a caretaker but the income from the rentals has offset such costs”, says a property-owner who is listed in Neelankarai.

Airbnb in three years has over 50,000 listings in India offering private bungalows, heritage homes and tree-houses (yes, you read it right) and ecological homestays. Yatra.com has 3500 homestays across 300 cities and has seen a 67 percent in booking queries.

This shows that there is an increasing trend of people opting for this and is here to stay.

Culture is the key

Chennai is steeped in rich culture and tradition. Large numbers of tourists from Europe, USA and the Middle East prefer to visit here before proceeding to other cities. Numbers say it all and as per data available, Chennai Airport has the third highest number of passengers after Delhi and Mumbai, which is only bound to grow in the coming years.

Medical Tourism – the new frontier

Another big winner for Chennai is the growing medical tourism. With cost of living comparably lower than other metros, hospitals with a good number of doctors with better facilities ensure patients with families preferring to get treated here.

“We used one of the many homestays listed in central Chennai when my family had to spend over a month in the city for treatment for my ailing father. The homely atmosphere was a plus as it didn’t feel as if our lives were too disrupted. This was a comforting element for my father when he was unwell,” says Sahanaa K on her experience opting for a homestay over a hotel.

Making money while it rains 

Another peak season is when the vacations commence, from November to January which sees many international tourists heading to India too. Chennai’s proximity to places like Auroville also make it a huge draw for those in search of a spiritual retreat. Some come for a full course of ayurvedic medical treatment (detox) too, as it’s far less expensive in this part of the world. 

Indeed, the demand for such lodging options soars during this time of the year. One property that I personally let out on Airbnb has seen a 50 percent rise in bookings in the past three months. This is located at stone’s throw from the Valmiki Nagar beach and one would have to pass through this locality to reach Mahabalipuram or Puducherry, and a bunch of other religious spots along the coastal belt that draw a number of visitors. I am already booked till December end!

Another factor that has led to the spike in popularity of homestays is the interest in sustainable farming concept, the  growing trend of “back to roots”, “son of the soil” or “agro tourism” industry. Many farms near the city now offer people, who have never walked barefoot, a farmer’s life for a day or a week even. They get to know and understand the concept of farm to fork, how to plough, water plants, milk a cow and feed them too, if they are brave enough. In between this, they live in a farm (with a few comforts), eat fresh produce and live the farmer’s life and learn to respect food.

Advantage of homestays Hotels in comparison
Home-like feeling Cold and impersonal
Less expensive as these are no-frills stays Definitely expensive for the frills that they provide as added component
Close proximity to malls, stores, local restaurants, temples, theatres, colleges, sabhas etc as these are primarily in residential areas  Hotels are generally situated in commercial areas. So commute costs may be a big deterrent
Home food is an option to choose from You are stuck with hotel food, that can get boring
Disadvantage of homestays Hotels in comparison 
Cleaning of rooms and bathrooms may not be up to the expected levels always Soft/hard mattresses, fluffy pillows, towels and cleaning of rooms/bathrooms every 24 hours
24*7 entrance access may sometimes be a hindrance Hotel doors are open 24*7*365 

Win-win for all

A personal welcome, a caring smile, socializing over coffee or a leisurely dinner and if the host is in the mood, even a swig of single malt whisky, with a warm goodnight ringing in the ears followed by a toothy grin next day morning — these are among the many memories that the guest will take back from a homestay and cherish forever.

As more folks explore personalised staying options in the city over hotels, it will be a boon for homeowners in the city looking to add to their income. The guests too get a holistic, local experience and support, which are invaluable as they navigate a new city on their own.

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About Pushpendra Shukla 1 Article
Pushpendra Shukla rents out his property, The Lord’s Abode in Thiruvanmiyur, on Air BnB.