Homestay owners see room for improvement for the same service in the country 

Homestay: More than a decade after it first started, homestays in Malaysia serve as a niche product for tourists to experience Malaysian rural lifestyle.

Records with tourism and culture ministry show that there are 172 homestay clusters in 308 villages in Malaysia engaging 3,519 operators as of last December. These government-initiated homestays has 4,867 rooms in total.

There are also hundreds of homestays initiated by the private sector and are costlier than the government ones.

Tourism and culture ministry officials, during a meeting with the Bhutanese delegation in Malaysia recently, said homestays provided local community with additional income and serves as a tool of poverty reduction. Besides it also promotes community based sustainable tourism through preservation of rural tradition and environment.

Like in Bhutan, as part of homestay programmes, tourists indulge in various activities like agriculture, trekking, fishing, and sightseeing besides traditional dances, local cuisine, local festivals and visits to historical sites.

“Our homestay are popular among domestic tourists and neighbouring countries,” the assistant secretary of industry and development division, Chong Wai Kit said.

“We have good response from Singapore as well.  As Singapore is a modern city, people see chicken only in supermarkets,” Chong Wai Kit said. “That’s where Malaysia provides Singaporeans the experience of a traditional lifestyle.”

The Bhutanese delegation that was on a weeklong study tour to Malaysia recently, also visited homestays in Kuala Selangor to learn and experience community based tourism.

The homestay chairperson of Phobjikha, Gyeltshen who is also part of the delegation, lauded Malaysia’s homestay programme.  “It is organised and the support from the government is a continuous process which in our case is just one time,” Gyeltshen said.

There are over 50 houses that are converted into homestays in Kuala Selangor, Malaysia. They also have a community centre with banks, internet facilities and buses to ferry tourists for activities. Associations are formed to cater to the welfare of those involved in homestay programmes.

“Although a new concept in Bhutan, homestays in Bhutan are also doing well but I see more scope for improvement,” Gyeltshen said. “This would be possible with more support from all tourism stakeholders besides the government.

Another delegate, Khorphu gup Tsheltrim Dorji said he would look into exploring activities in Nabji-Khorphu to promote community based tourism like in Malaysia. “We can incorporate the various activities and also look at introducing homestays,” he said, calling it was a wonderful experience.

Homestays in Bhutan were initiated about two years ago as part of community-based sustainable tourism project aimed at improving livelihood of communities.

There are about 57 farm stays in Bhutan with the highest in Wangdue at 24.

Although farmhouse stays need not necessarily have all the standards of a hotel, house owners have to ensure basic standards and hygiene are met. Other components include training local guides, development of souvenir and handicraft, improvement of wetland boardwalk, and preparation of promotion tools about community-based sustainable tourism.

Homestay owners in Bhutan have also been trained in cooking, food handling, serving, and catering.  Local guides are also encouraged and given preference. However, the support from stakeholders is just one time while in Malaysia the training advances depending on the need. From catering to guests, the trainings advances to marketing home made products and access to markets, among others.

Homestay programmes in Malaysia bagged the UNWTO Ulysses Award for Innovation in Public Policy and Governance 2012. Malaysian tourism officials said they also collaborated with ASEAN member states to develop ASEAN homestay standards.

The government-initiated homestays in Malaysia recorded 31,833 tourists in 2006, which increased to about 367,473 last year. Similarly, revenue also increased simultaneously to 23M last year from 2.7M in 2006.

A major aspect of homestay programmes in Malaysia, ABTO’s executive director Sonam Dorji said was the kind of support provided by the government, which is why the programme is a success.

“The support at various levels is immense from trainings to infrastructures and linkages among various agencies,” he said. “Even now, the homestays keep receiving support from the government.”

The homestay experience, Sonam Dorji said was an eye opener for the Bhutanese delegation.

By Kinga Dema