For the millennial generation, cultural immersion is an important part of any travel experience. According to one survey of individuals between the ages of 18 and 30, 86 percent said the desire to experience a new culture was their strongest travel motivator. If it’s also yours—and you want to eat local foods, experience local activities and get to know someone who actually lives there while on your next vacation—you should consider Homestay.com.
RewardExpert spoke with Alan Clarke, the company’s CEO, about Homestay.com’s founding and growth, how the service works, and how travelers can use it to make the most of their next national or international journey.
Founding and Growth
Based in Dublin, Ireland, Tom Kennedy and Debbie Flynn founded Homestay.com in 2013.
“They saw an opportunity to bring a largely offline industry online and open it up to a wider audience,” said Clarke. “Tom had previously co-founded one of the world’s most successful hostel booking platforms, Hostelworld, while Debbie had more than 30 years of experience in the education travel sector, in which homestays are a well-established category of accommodation.”
In the last three years, guests have used Homestay.com’s platform to connect with more than 50,000 homestay hosts in 150 countries. The number of hosts listed globally grew 25 percent in 2016 alone. Bookings grew by 120 percent globally, and Clarke noted that Honolulu was the U.S. destination chart-topper with 600 percent growth last year.
“Other U.S. cities experiencing strong bookings growth included Boston (443 percent), San Francisco (283 percent), New York (179 percent), Washington D.C. (125 percent), Los Angeles (88 percent), Chicago (60 percent), and San Diego (56 percent),” he added.
While solo travelers account for more than 50 percent of Homestay.com’s bookings, couples and families can also use the service.
“Homestays are the perfect accommodation choice for price-conscious, experience-led travelers,” Clarke said. “They perfectly match the needs of anyone seeking to live with local people, learn a new culture first-hand, and save some money. We have thousands of guest reviews and more than 90 percent of them are five-star, a clear sign that the people staying in homestays love the experience.”
How Homestay.com Works
Unlike Airbnb or other room or home rental services, “Homestay.com focuses exclusively on offering ‘hosted’ experiences,” Clarke said. “All of our homestays have a host living in them during the guest’s stay. We don’t do empty rentals.”
Additionally, “Our homestays offer a range of accommodation types and experiences,” said Clarke. “They all include breakfast, and some include activities conducted by local hosts, either on a complimentary or add-on basis.”
Booking on Homestay.com is very straightforward. Simply enter your destination, travel dates, and number of travelers into the search box on the home page. You can browse through all of the results or filter them by details such as the host’s hobbies and home’s amenities as well as by price per night and distance from the destination city’s center.
“You can read the host’s reviews and information as well as look at pictures of the homestays to help make your decision,” Clarke said. “We also offer a video chat option, which allows you to ‘meet’ your host online before confirming a booking. This allows both host and guest to feel completely comfortable with their choice.”
In addition to video chat, Homestay.com features an online messaging system. Clarke stressed the importance of using these tools to share your reasons for traveling, age, interests and any special requirements with potential hosts during the booking process.
“Many hosts go out of their way to arrange airport transfers, tours, visits to attractions, bicycle rentals, restaurant reservations, transportation to other areas and more,” he added. “Guests will pay a 15 percent deposit directly to Homestay.com and the balance of their stay on arrival directly to their host. Once the booking is confirmed, both the host and guest receive a confirmation email with contact information so they can get in touch with each other to arrange any other details.”
Making the Most of Your Homestay.com Experience
“Choosing a homestay over a hotel or resort is all about the quality of experience you will have,” Clarke said. “It offers cultural immersion and personal connection. You get the chance to live like a local with instant access to local knowledge and tips on where to eat, what to see, and activities to try. Be open to new experiences and different cultures.”
Clarke and his team always encourage travelers to make good use of the website’s messaging tools.
“This will help you choose a host that best suits your needs and the level of interaction you want,” he said. “Each host has their own commitments too; many work and are not around a lot during the day—which is great for guests who want more independence and privacy. Other hosts are more hands-on and are happy to basically be a tour guide for their guests.”
Some final tips on getting the best deal for a week’s stay: “Send requests to a few hosts to increase your chances of finding one that is available on the dates you need,” he added. “And check if a host offers a discount for stays of seven nights or more. Many do.”