Homestays in Haa hopeful about business resuming post-COVID

It is 9am. The sun is not yet warm at Damchu in Haa. Ap Lhapchu’s head is wrapped in a scarf and he wears a facemask. His attire for the day is a torn leather jacket and faded jeans.

But he is not out for a biking adventure or to roam the streets. The gear is to protect him from the Haa morning cold. He is at work. Ap Lhapchu is a carpenter at a homestay construction site in Damchu.

The weather is not friendly and the work not easy. Ap Lhapchu breaks stones as he waits for other workers. But the job pays well. He earns Nu 500 a day and feels it is a good opportunity to build more homestays in his village since there have been no tourist arrivals lately.

“The homestays have seen a sign of revival as the business started opening up in Haa,” he said, adding leisure destinations saw a surge in bookings during the festive season as hotels in this segment witnessed pre-COVID level occupancies.

He said homestays now have customized their operations as per the COVID-norms. Domestic tourism has also begun in some regions and is seeing a steady increase.

Like Ap Lhapchu, Namgay who also runs a home stay said that the idea of community is catching up now, more than ever since the guest is not confined to the four walls but can also step out for some leisure activity.

“Food and beverage business has also started to revive substantially. Restaurants have shifted their focus toward the trend of online ordering, deliveries, pickups and takeaways and are channeling their investments into smart technology that would keep up with the needs and demands of the evolving market,” he said.

He added that a focus on guest safety, flexible policies, digitization and product innovation will help contribute to a positive guest experience that will win loyal guests post-COVID-19.

“Sanitization and meticulous disinfection of all sites and premises is undoubtedly the most essential factor to attract guests at homestays currently,” he said, adding maximizing occupancy and safety measures too.

The homestay owners’ group has modified their SOP required for effective crowd monitoring. Enhanced air filtration system for ventilation, moving toward contactless and digitalization of operations at homestay are some of the changes which have been adopted.

“The enhanced protocols include social distancing, contactless check in, and sanitization, in room dining, and thermal screening of guests,” said Ap Lhapchu adding though the damage caused by the pandemic to the industry was significant, there is still hope.

“Eventually what I’ve personally inferred is rather than focusing on going back to normal, we should be focusing on setting some new standards and a new normal for the coming times,” he said.

Another farmer, Sonam said accommodations perceived as cleaner, contactless and more isolated will find greater favor. The question on every traveler’s mind will be – “What are the accommodations doing to make us feel safe?”, “Is that homestay bedspread really clean?”, “How much of everything is sanitized?”

“It’s hard for us to say right now when people will be ready to travel — but travel will come back and perhaps better than ever for homestays and private accommodations like us,” he said, adding whenever it does, he is excited to begin the new chapter, and will be ready with appropriate safety measures and new features at the property to ensure mental peace and confidence of a traveler choosing to stay with them.

He mentioned that he is even open to undergo challenging experiences and will be constantly adapting to ensure to do right as a hospitality industry, stay at par with the health guidelines set by the health ministry, and provide amazing experiences to guests seeking his home stay.

Haa receives a considerable number of foreign tourists who opt for homestays more than local ones. However, after the pandemic business has come to a halt for these homestays.

Kinley Yonten from Haa