A few years ago when the concept of homestays hit the Kenyan market, the idea was as simple as identifying families, mostly from a rural setting, who were willing to accommodate tourists in their homes to experience first-hand, life in a Kenyan farming setup.
The packages organised included such rare opportunities like preparing meals the Kenyan way, rising up early before even the mist had settled to help with milking the cows, picking tea in the expansive tea plantations of Limuru or harvesting coffee berries in Meru. Sometimes the tourists would engage in even more sublime activities such as herding cattle in the Laikipia plains or the Maasai Mara.
If one was lucky and visited Kenya during the planting season, then they would get to participate in land tilling and even do some planting. A few travel agents would even organise for their visitors to get volunteer teaching positions in local schools and experience the life of a local teacher in a rural farming village in upcountry Kenya.
That was homestay back then. Today the concept has climbed a notch higher by allowing the same visitors the choice of not having to drastically alter the lifestyles they are used to back at home by putting them up in more urbanised settings with modern facilities and amenities. While enjoying their stay they can, for instance, cook and eat their own foods but using local ingredients.
There is now a new wave that has seen many Kenyans, especially those in the diaspora, convert their local homes into mini-hotels or bed and breakfasts. Besides offering accommodation and meals, the homes come with an added personal touch which is possible because of the small numbers they handle – usually between 3-15 guests.
Guests staying in these homes are offered personalised services they otherwise would not get in a big hotel and at a fraction of the cost, not to mention the added advantage of privacy and freedom.
While many argue that this new concept waters down the original idea of homestays being a great way for various cultures to interact and learn from each other, it is nevertheless a growing sector worth exploring.