By John Oyuke
Kenya’s tourism offerings might be shifting from the traditional high cost hotel or lodge, white beach and game drive experience to the warmth of a domesticated, cozy and personalised environment.
In the next three months, the Government will officially launch a new tourism concept known as “Home-stays” to provide pocket friendly and secure accommodation option for today’s adventure seeking tourists.
According to Tourism Minister, Dan Mwazo, the concept will not only bridge the gap of quality accommodation as envisaged in the Vision 2030 blueprint, but will also provide a unique chance for visitors to immerse themselves into the rich and diverse cultural exchange, and catalyse the rural economy.
He said the unique hospitality system developed by the ministry in which a tourist stays with a family would help diversify tourism products, as well as equip tourists with the knowledge of the hosts’ way of life such as agricultural system, folk arts sculptures, sports and cuisine.
Though the concept has not yet picked up in Kenya, a Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) official says it will provide unique opportunities now that the body has developed criteria to identify and guide the standards of promoting home-stays.
The official says the drive towards home-stays is driven by need to raise bed capacity from 40,000 to about 65,000 by this year, as envisaged under the Vision 2030.
“This is to be achieved by identifying the niche product by providing 3,000 beds of high cost accommodation for the tourists interested in the cultural and eco- tourism as well as sports activities, among other ways,” he added.
The ministry is already undertaking an inventory to identify suitable places for home-stays/cultural homes in the country, and targets to register 1,000 homes as home-stays before the end of the year.
According to a ministry of tourism criteria of home-stays seen by The standard, identification of Home-stay units will be carried out by the Ministry, in collaboration with the Kenya Community-Based Tourism Network in order to accredit, approve, license the Home-stays based on the facilities and quality of the accommodation provided.
These units will also be classified as either community home-stays, farm stays and modern urban private homes, and grading into classes following five broad criteria.
The five standards are based on the location and accessibility of the house, premises quality in terms of facilities and amenities for offering to tourists, hygiene and sanitation, safety and security, and general services.
The facilities will be classified into three levels of quality namely, Economy, Standard and Executive attaching clear guidelines on the expected minimum standards.
Home-stay units fulfilling all the minimum essential conditions prescribed under the set standards will be issued certificate of approval and accorded license status to receive and accommodate guests.
The ministry says priority for registration and licensing will be only for operational Home-stays. Once the home stay operator applies for registration, it has to be ready for inspection by the government officials.
Recommended licence fees for the licenses valid for a period of one year from the date of issue is Sh1,000 for economy level Home-stays. Sh2,000 for standard level Home-stays, and Sh3,000 for Executive Level Home-stays.
The move by the ministry comes after tourism businesses said tourists prefer renting a private home, particularly at the Coast, as opposed to staying in a hotel stay.
They attribute dipping in hotel occupancy to the rising demand for relatively cheaper self-catering accommodation. A number of tourists are seeking out self-catering homes rather than large and expensive beach hotels.
A government Vision 2030 progress said that the country has run out of bed space and would face a serious accommodation crisis were it to host a major international conference. The report covering years 2010 and 2011 says the country has surpassed its targeted bed capacity as at last year and unless more investors put up hotel and accommodation facilities, there may not be need for Kenya to attract more tourists.
According to a Kenyan Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers (KAHCC) official, Ms Leah Ng’ang’a, the organisation does not see adoption of the Home-stay tourism concept by the ministry as a threat to its members.
“In fact we had been working with the ministry to fine tune the idea because as for us it means giving all cadre of tourist the best type and affordable mode of accommodation available,” she told Business Weekly last week.
Ng’ang’a, an Administration Officer at the representative body that brings together duly registered hotels, lodges and camps operating in Kenya said Home stays would provide aÂ first-hand experience for tourists.
“The concept will enable tourists to enjoy the rural life, the ethnic cuisine and local culture of the country while at the same time spreading benefits of tourism to the local communities,” she pointed out.
Under the new concept, every county will have 100 Home-stays, licensed by the ministry of tourism as part of efforts by the government to empower rural folks, who have been viewing tourism sector as meant for the elites.
Besides diversification from the traditional safari to beach tourism, Mwazo has also announced that the ministry plans to restructure Kenya Tourism Board would be restructured to create posts of Brand managers.
According Mwazo, the purpose of the Brand managers would be to come up with new products and market them to the ever changing travel trends, which he said were becoming more about experiential holidays.
“Sports, film, medical, education and cultural tourism will form the new components of products to be developed in the near future, he added