Tourists shun hotels to stay with Thai families

When Brian Hauff came to visit Thailand, he decided against a resort hotel and joined the increasing number of foreigners who are staying in the homes of local villagers instead.

“I came directly to Thailand to learn more intimate Thai in terms of culture,” says the 58-year-old, arriving in the central lowland province of Samut Songkhram, south-east of Bangkok.

For three days, Hauff lived with a family in Yai Pang village, in their house on a canal. They prepared typical Thai meals for him, and gave the Canadian an insight into the country he would not get at an upmarket resort.

He says his goal was to “experience the culture much better than staying in five- or four-star hotels in Bangkok or any of the major resort islands, through contacts with local people”.

Bansuan Manowejchapun Home Stay, the company that organised his visit, prepared a series of activities for him, including taking a river boat to a floating market and observing the work of an orchid grower.

Following recent attacks on foreigners in Thailand, safety is a concern — but the numbers of travellers opting for a home stay has been on the rise.

“Foreign tourists come here to learn about the authentic lifestyle and culture of the local people, which is different from the conveniences of staying at hotels,” says Boonlert Manowejchapun, who turned his traditional Thai house into a home-stay accommodation three years ago.

Only a few thousand tourists opted for a home stay last year, but the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) says the number keeps increasing, with especially strong interest among holidaymakers from Scandinavia and Japan.

“The number of home-stay visitors coming to Thailand is still minimal, but has been growing steadily over the past two years,” says Aroonsri Sattraniti, director of the TAT’s services promotion division.

Home-stay holidays appeal to vacationers who otherwise would have visited Thailand as backpackers but who are willing to spend 20% to 30% more money, according to the Thai Eco-Tourism and Adventure Travel Association.

Home-stay prices are a bargain compared with Thailand’s famous beach resorts.

Bansuan Manowejchapun charges 2 000 baht ($50) per night per person for a package that includes accommodation, food, boat trips to tourist attractions, and transfers to and from Bangkok.

Next door, the Art Camp and Home Stay offers a 3 800-baht package for a one-week stay that includes lessons in painting and Thai cooking.

“They are willing to pay for what they are really interested in, which is the lifestyle and culture of people in different parts of the world,” Aroonsri says.

About 120 communities across Thailand have home-stay businesses, according to Niramol Plienjaroon, acting director of Thailand’s Tourism Development Office. But she says only 32 of the home-stay businesses have been certified by the office.

“Many of them couldn’t meet our requirements on standards of accommodation, food, safety and available telecommunication infrastructure,” she says, adding that her office plans training programmes to help businesses upgrade their operations.

In the wake of a recent series of attacks on tourists in resort areas since December, she admits that security has become a top concern.

“We have to make sure that they would be safe. If something bad happens, the overall business will collapse.” — AFP

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