Do you believe that Homestay Tourism would benefit the Maldives Tourism Industry and support it in terms of growth? Or would it pose a challenge for small and medium tourism sectors, most of whom have barely survived during the initial pandemic with the stimulus packages, loans and moratoriums?

PUBLISHED June 07, 2021

Abdul Latheef
SME & Entrepreneurs Federation of Maldives (SEFM)
The most pragmatic reasons that people choose homestays are because they are 50% cheaper, there are no extra costs and they can avoid taxes. Food is mostly included; hence, they do not spend money eating outside. Home-stayers generally fall into two groups; one, is students attending university education which we do not have in the Maldives. The other, is travellers such as backpackers – or in the case of Maldives, in the future, perhaps long-stay illegal workers on a tourist visa running illegal business in the islands and destroying local MSMEs. Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia, face challenges in small islands that need protection from cultural and environmental degradation associated with backpacker-tourism. By accommodating a foreign man for a long stay alone with mothers and children at family homes in Maldives while the men are working in a faraway resort invite cultural, social, religious, and family problem. It makes more sense to adopt a system where those empty rooms at homes of the local islands are utilized to accommodate the resort employee’s family. Let the resort employees bring their families with children to study in the nearby islands so after work they can spend time with the families. This creates a better local economy, healthier children and families, and the retention of local resort employees for a longer duration.
It will destroy the existing guest house segment and will unbalance the industry. The very concept of 3S (Sun, Sea, Sand) in the Maldives will be devalued and our culture will be badly infected. Also, there will be no security for both, the tourists and the locals. We need to focus on the growth and nurturing of the existing guest house segment. Little has been done to place the guest house segment in the market and tons of work need to be done on clarification of existing facilities and strengthening the policies for a sustainable and profitable business. After all, these are 100% local investments and it is a must for any government to support it without any discrimination. Instead of downgrading something which requires die-hard, effective measures to implement its survival needs, the best way forward will be to develop, introduce, facilitate and educate locals on tourism-related areas supporting macro businesses.
In my opinion, the Maldives Tourism Industry is not ready for Homestay Tourism. Our society is not educated for such an idea which may cause negative impact on our rising industry and can easily be considered as a downgrade. On the other hand, we have a very different culture from rest of the world and even though we welcome tourist with open arms to our country, we still struggle to accept them to our guest houses in local islands. Due to cultural differences, the way some tourists dress and their behavior is a common issue in Maldivian society. As most joint families living under the same roof tend to have many conflicts within them, homestays cannot be considered as viable.
Diversification of the Tourism Industry, from up market resorts to guest houses to homestays, will definitely help. It will open the industry to another market segment and allow ordinary folks to earn from the larger industry. I do have some reservations about the fact that such a move can offer easier access from the unhealthy side of travellers going directly to the homes of ordinary folks. Therefore, there must be comprehensive awareness programmes to accompany such a move. Finally, as had happened with the guest house segment, it’s another class of travellers who'll travel to the homestay offers. It’s NOT a zero-sum game, the whole industry can grow and diversify from such a move.
We are not ready for homestay tourism. First, we need to educate the public about tourism, training them in communication skills, friendly behavior, services and more, prior to introducing new segments.
Homestay is a very cheap form of tourism. Unless we come up with a fixed rate for all inbound tourists to the Maldives, the tourist could go and stay in a home stay instead of a guest house as they are looking for cheap way to stay. Remember the number of beds far exceed the number of tourists travelling to the Maldives and prices spiraling down is bad for the government (tax), for banks (loan repayment capacity), for labour (cannot increase salary) and of course, for the owners (less profit or loss).