Homestays are becoming popular in Kerala with many neo entrepreneurs jumping in the tourism bandwagon by opening the doors of their estate bungalows, heritage homes, farmhouses and even ordinary homes for tourists.
The state is targetting about 1,500 classified homestays with approximately 5,000 rooms in five years, Tourism Secretary Dr V Venu said.
Homestays are a home away from home, allowing tourists get close to the host family and community.
Tucked away in the misty plantation hills, amid coconut groves and backwaters, homestays offer visitors rich and varied experiences of the culture, lifestyles and flavours of the land and the people.
Many who have retired from service take it as a new vocation.
Thankappan Kettarathil, who retired from LIC two years ago, started Misty Heights homestay at Munnar in Idukki district, by letting out three rooms for his guests. About 30 guests from North India have so far been his guests, he said.
Tomy Joseph, who has a eco friendly homestay in Munnar called Rosegardens says he charges about $50 a day, which includes breakfast, dinner and sightseeing and lets out his rooms only to foreign tourists.
His wife Rajee's delicious appams, idlis and dosas are a hit with the foreigners, he says. Tourists are so fascinated by Indian cooking that they also join her in the kitchen.
The tourists are also treated to fresh vegetables -- cabbage, beetroot, beans and banana flowers and stem, which they relish very much, he said. Joseph said that the state government's eviction procedure and demolishing of illegal constructions at Munnar last year had dented their business to a great extent,as there were many cancellations.
Constant hartals were giving them nightmares.
He said he lost five bookings in the last hartal and the days following the hanging of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
According to him, the Kerala State Electricity Board's commercial tarriff is eating into his returns.
The IT crowd from Hyderabad, Bangalore and Pune are also among the guests.
Houses owned by NRIs can also be let out for homestays.
Prospective homestays operators have to submit a police clearance certificate from the local Station House Officer.
The miximum number of rooms offered is six and at least one family should be able to converse in English.
Dr Venu said that the Tourism department also planned to bring out a new scheme for classification of homestays by bringing out clear guidelines on the required facilities, procedures for classifications, benefits to operators.
Though Kerala has 50,000 rooms for tourists in different categories, there are only less than 10,000 quality rooms.
Considering the potential and demand, there is a gap of about 5,000 quality rooms now, which would double in five years, he said.
An investment of Rs 3000 crore (Rs 30 billion) would be needed to meet the requirement, which was near to impossible. It was thus necessary to find ways of achieving the target in a cheaper way without compromising on the quality, he added.
To address the issues of homestay operators and promote business, the state's Homestay sector has come together to form Kerala Hats, a society which was inaugurated last month.
Kerala Tourism is also promoting special short break packages during weekends of August-September called 'Dream Weekends'. The aim is give an insight into the festival nam season falling next month.
Tourists can select various destinations and tariffs ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 15,000.