Emmanuel Kayaayo, 69, a retired civil servant owns a three-bedroom mansion with self-contained boys’ quarters on top of Kisomoro Hill in the newly created district of Bunyangabu in western Uganda. A neat compound with shades of trees and a well-maintained vineyard fenced is what complements his beautiful retirement home. Yet all his six children live away, in the bustling Kampala City and in Entebbe Town.
For Kayaayo, there are many such households in Bunyangabu, which are at the heart of tourist attractions that include an estimated 83 crater lakes, hot springs and the nice view of Mountain Rwenzori. He says homestay is a good option for visitors.
Miya Sida, proprietor of Olga Courts in Ntinda, a suburb in Kampala, started by offering a private space consisting of a 32 inch screen, wooden chairs with leather cushions, kitchen and three bedrooms with a self-contained bathroom.
“One can predict the basics but the best thing is being prepared for their requests. If one has no furniture, think out of the box, borrow or lease from those who have extra stuff. It can be a basement or a boy’s quarter or a free room to earn from it,” he advises.
“Two years back, I started with borrowed furniture. If you have an extra room, then you can start there but the price differs; sharing a room varies from giving a client a fully furnished space. When we started getting money, we kept on transforming the place, he shares.
He adds: “Experienced with knowledge in real estate business for some time, I opted for short stay since I would have my cake in due time that catered for my developments.”
At the end of the year, he hopes to get 10 more units to host 21 clients. Most of the income has been reinvested to work on the house. He also hopes to get solar heaters to cut down the cost of electricity.
In a good month, Miya can accommodate five clients between three to four days.
Miya charges between $20-35 (Shs74,000 and Shs130,000) per night. Cost depends on if one is sharing a room, or has all the space to themselves.
Spirit of tourism
In potential tourist towns, homeowners can tap into the power of homestay, a form of hospitality and lodging where visitors or students, usually on a budget, sleep at the residence of a local person for a fee.
This is usually the spirit of tourism riding on the natural richness of indigenous societies with their mystic cultures.
Apart from the thousands of hotels and resorts catering for tourists, the charm of homestay is the new option.
Although homestay is still an “afterthought” in the tourism sector in Uganda, it is gradually becoming popular in the hospitality market. There are websites that list homestay guest options in Uganda although most of them are located in Kampala, Jinja and Entebbe.
For many travel enthusiasts, homestay provides the opportunity to assimilate with the local customs, relish the local cuisine and get to know the real local lifestyle.
It is one among the inimitable chances for the guest to experience life as it is lived by local residents.
The benefits of homestay are immense because it thrives on consuming local resources and encouraging local entrepreneurship.
This type of tourism practice usually stands on three bases - attraction, service and promotion.
Miya says it helped him get familiar with different cultures from different walks of life through hosting people.
State Minister for Gender and Culture Peace Regis Mutuuzo, thinks there are no shortcuts for establishing hotels in her Bunyangabu District, which became operational in 2017, is advocating for homestays not only in the new found district, but also areas where people do not stay in their country homes.
Bunyangabu hosted hundreds of people this year to celebrate the International Women’s Day on March 8.
“Homestay exposes a visitor to a unique traditional and cultural way of life, which can best be explored through homestays.
“It would further revive the local cultures by showcasing real Uganda to the rest of the world,” she says.
John Kyaligonza, the Kabonero Sub-County Chairperson in Bunyangabu, told Daily Monitor that Uganda can ably transform the inherent blessings of nature into tourism potentiality in the rural areas through homestay.
“Considering that most parts in Bunyangabu lack extensive infrastructural investment but have huge assets to attract tourists, homestays can function as an alternative ground,” he says of the untapped potential of hot springs in an area that had a lot of volcanic activity.
Concerning feasibility of homestay, there seems more opportunities than threats.
Vincent Magandaazi, a realtor at Maga Properties in Ntinda, says homestay facilities are gaining prominence, especially in major towns because of the low costs involved.
Teresha Clark, who runs a children’s disabilities project in Jinja, offers his back ensuite house for visitors at $300 (about Shs1m) per month. Yet, hotel stay in an average hotel such as Nile View Casino goes for $24.13 (Shs87, 000) per night, according to Booking.com.
“It is a seasonal but a worthy venture,” Magandaazi says, adding: “Frequent travellers are always looking for options to save and homestay comes in handy. For some, renting fully furnished apartments is an option yet it is also slightly expensive. Most of these facilities are well positioned.”
Magandaazi says the houses get occupants during holiday time towards the end of the year.
Miya attributes the business’ growth to investment from partnerships with some people to make it a success.
“It requires quite a lumpsum to fully furnish the house. We have kept on improving from the reviews accorded to us by the former guests. Some guests wanted to watch Netflix so we upgraded to a smart TV, added unlimited internet, which is a prerequisite to some.
“Also, provide a few services at a small fee since we have no washing machine,” Miya shares.
50-90 per cent of this business is driven by referrals; what people say about the host matters.
It is important to understand the type of platform one is using to market to determine how the host will prepare for clients.
There are different ways one can market their place, but one has to keep in mind what platform is best suited for what. For instance, AirBnB is best if you are sharing your house.
Also, use it for a whole stand-alone house or apartment or hotel. Its price is relatively low at $35 (about Shs130,000), if it is higher than that, it is hard to get traffic at AirBnB, and it is best suited for those sharing your house.
He outlines specific websites the different homestay owners use to market their business.
Each site has a targeted clientele. Booking.com is popular for hotels and fully furnished apartments; serviced apartments with a full-time caretaker.
Home Away and BRO are also good for holidays, especially comprising of locations near the lakeside or a special tourism attraction.
Backpackers.com mainly good for low budget clients such as where one can offer a dormitory with double deckers or tents to be displayed in a compound.
Miya says when someone comes in, they start with a handshake and by the time they are exiting, it is an exchange of hugs.
It is important to keep control of the place so that it does not become a lodge.
“I screen by not allowing in clients booking at night beyond 11pm especially if they are Ugandans and if I do accept, they stay over for one night. The owner has to put down rules on these platforms. If they book beyond that time, then its two nights,” he says.
He adds: “Be honest in the sense that you market what you have as opposed to painting a luxurious image. While marketing, don’t talk about something you don’t have. You have unlimited internet when the speed is low. You can start with low furniture, no internet and lower the price down.”
Kayaayo, who has a couple of times hosted visitors at his home, agrees that homestay works best with proper advertisement and linkages with tour and travel operators.
In addition to the websites, securing payments prior is key because homestay clients can easily go without paying, especially natives recommended by an individual.
It is only via some websites that the service is paid for.
One needs to know when to let a client go. You definitely need to guarantee security with locks since some people are not comfortable with CCTV cameras.
If you are to decide to share your house with homestay guests, Miya advises against keeping pocketable personal belongings such as perfumes, earrings and clothing in rooms that the guests will be staying in.
The diverse clients allied to different cultures sometimes find insulting normal. However, how one responds or keeps their cool when insulted is vital. Miya says when there is load shedding or water shortage, he explains to guests. It is important to communicate early and how to handle the pressure. At least improvise candles or sometimes go an extra mile to find a solution.
“Due to growth and demand, I created a team to work with since we leased more space from other areas. One of the key components to be on the team is to have a virtue of patience; even in the wrong, how do you make sure you don’t fight back.”
Work with other people to fully monetise any free space.
Miya says: “Put up ground rules on what is acceptable and what isn’t like aborted sleepovers nor house parties to shun away from any breakages. Smoking is prohibited in the house, parties can break things around the house. Clients ought to know how to get to you easily, also know their expectations and what will stop them from having a good time.”