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Homestay tourism: What is a homestay?

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What is a homestay?

Homestay is a relatively new concept that has been introduced to the tourism sphere. In fact, the very notion of ‘home’ seems somewhat contradictory when we talk about tourism, doesn’t it? I mean, we travel to get away from home…

Well, it turns out that homestay tourism has grown considerably is recent years. With the rise in budget travel and an increased interest in cultural tourism, homestay have popped up all over the world. But what is a homestay? And how does a homestay work? Read on to find out…

What is a homestay?

When you Google ‘what is a homestay?’ you will be given some pretty short and basic answers. However, anybody who has taken the time posit down and look deeply into the homestay industry will know that explaining this concept is anything BUT short and basic…

Below I have given you a basic explanation of a homestay. This is similar to what you will find elsewhere on the Internet. But you didn’t go elsewhere, did you? You came toTourism Teacher! And as such, I will proceed to discuss the concept of the homestay from a critical perspective, you didn’t really want simple– did you?

What is a homestay? The simple answer

Put simply, a homestay is when you stay in another person’s home. Could this be your best mate’s home? Technically, yes. Could it be staying in the home of a rural villager in Laos? Yep, it could be that too.

What is a homestay?
What is a homestay?Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

According to, a homestay is when you are offered a spare room in a house that someone lives in.You stay there with the family. Whilst this may rank top on Google for obvious reasons (the website name), this is in reality a load of rubbish.

Homestay have popped up all over the globe in recent years, and most of the time you are not staying with the home owner (or renter), the homeowner does not live there and it is not the deep cultural experience that some might expect.

Want to know more? I knew the ‘simple’ explanation wouldn’t be enough for you… Read on…

What is a homestay? The not so simple answer

Lets be real here- a homestay is far more than staying in a spare room.

A homestay is essentially the commercialisation of the home. This commercialisation has disrupted economies throughout the world, resulted in gentrification and globalisation, and is largely anything but ‘cultural tourism’.

Lets dig a bit deeper and find out what a homestay really is…

The homestay industry

A homestay forms part of the sharing economy. Homestay represent the notion of the commercialisation of one’s home for financial benefit.

Homestays typically provide a middle-ground for tourists- they are more intimate than a hotel, but offer more of a formal setting than staying with friends and relatives.

A homestay can offer the tourist with facilities that traditional types of accommodation may not be able to provide. This might include an authentic cultural experience with those who live in the home or it could be having an entire home, and all of its facilities, to yourself.

A definition of homestay

Generally, the term homestay hasn’t received a great deal of attention in the academic literature. However, there are similar terms that have.

Two terms that reflect the notion of using your home as a business are ‘home-based enterprise’ (Di Domenico & Lynch, 2007, p. 321) and ‘commercial home enterprise’ (CHE) (McIntosh, Lynch, & Sweeney, 2011, p. 511).

According to Lynch (2005);

A ‘Commercial home’ refers to types of accommodation where visitors or guests pay to stay in private homes, where interaction takes place with a host and/or family usually living upon the premises and with whom public space is, to a degree, shared. ‘Commercial home’ therefore embraces a range of accommodation types including some (small) hotels, bed and breakfasts (B&Bs), and host family accommodation, which simultaneously span private, commercial, and social settings.

Characteristics of a homestay

Lynch (2005) goes on to identify several key characteristics of a homestay. These are;

  • Family involvement
  • Local community benefits
  • Guest engagement with the property
  • The sharing of space between guest and host
  • The participation of owner-managers in the shaping of the accommodation product
  • The involvement of ‘lifestyle entrepreneurs’
  • The importance of gender, personal networks, social values, and family life cycle

As you can see from the list above, culture and connection between host and guest is, according to Lynch, an important part of the homestay experience. However, since his works written in 2005,a lot has changed. And I would now argue that financial gain is, in most circumstances, far superior to host-guest interaction.

Homestay as a cultural experience

Whilst there has been a clear move away from culture being the focus and towards economic benefit, a homestay experience can be a significant cultural experience.

There are many different ways that you can experience culture through a homestay, and this is largely dependent on the set up of the homestay itself.

Inevitably, if a guest is staying in the home of a local person, who regularly interacts with the guest, then they will receive a greater cultural experience than someone who is simply paying to rent a bedroom or entire property.

Some of the cultural experiences that a tourist may receive include;

  • Learning a new language
  • Tasting new food and learning to cook new recipes
  • Learning about the local way of life
  • Learning about local history
  • Exposure to the local community
  • Taking part in village, nature or workplace tours
  • Learning about the religion and visiting religious sites
  • Taking part in local events and celebrations

Homestay as a commercial enterprise

In recent years we have witnessed monumental growth in the so called ‘sharing economy‘. The sharing economy is a socio-economic ecosystem that is built around the sharing of human, physical and intellectual resources. Also known as collaborative consumption or peer-to-peer-based sharing, the sharing economy is a concept that highlights the way in which people rent or borrow goods and services rather than buying or owning them. In the context of homestay, this represents the sharing of one’s home.

This notion of ‘sharing’ has, however, has disrupted many traditional commercial operations. Hotel occupancy rates around the world are down as tourists opt for homestay options instead of hotel rooms. In addition, the income potential for homestay has driven up real estate prices in many areas, meaning that local people are struggling to get on the property ladder and gentrification is taking place.

The homestay concept has seen the rise of many budding entrepreneurs across the globe. People have transformed their homes in guesthouses, locals are offering culturally immersive tours and the wealthy have snapped up entire apartment blocks upon completion in the aim of building their Airbnb business.

Homestays come in all shapes and sizes, from sleeping on someone’s couch in a New York apartment to renting an entire island in the South Pacific. The possibilities are endless…

Where to book a homestay

What is a homestay?
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Homestays occur around the world.

A homestay can be organised via apps, social media, academic institutions and more. They offer the chance to integrate yourself into local society.

Below, I have outlined some of the most common ways to organise a homestay on your travels.

Homestay family

Also known as the ‘host family’, a homestay family are the people who own the house/accommodation where you’ll be staying. They provide board and lodging.

You will often find that you become close to the family, and they will have a lot to offer you in terms of local knowledge, connections and more.

Student homestay

Homestays are particularly popular with students.

For young people studying a language, international relations, business studies and other degrees, travelling abroad to immerse themselves in their studies is a huge part of the course. 

Students can find a homestay through their university or college. The institution will have access to a list of host families, and will match students accordingly to families in the right area.

A homestay is a great way for students to get involved with daily life in that particular culture, or to practise the language they are learning.

Generally, a homestay is incredibly beneficial to students and an overall enjoyable experience.


Couchsurfing is a concept that really seems to have taken off in the last decade or so. And the concept is simple- a home owner (or renter) allows a tourist to stay on their couch.

I say couch, it doesn’t have to be a couch. In fact, many hosts offer the tourists a bed, their own room and sometimes their own bathroom too.

When couchsurfing, no money is supposed to change hands. Instead, the tourist repays the host with interactions.


WWOOFING stands for worldwide opportunities on organic farms. It is a form of homestay tourism, whereby the tourist works on the farm in exchange for free board.

WWOOFING has grown as an industry in recent years and is particularly popular in Australia, where many international tourists undertake agricultural work in order to extend the duration of their working holiday visa. Other popular WWOOFING destinations include the USA, Ireland and various places throughout Europe.

WWOOFING is also popular with budget and long term travellers as it provides the tourist with travel opportunities at a reduced cost.


Airbnb is essentially an online marketplace that involves the renting of property to travellers. They have also recently started offering experiences too.

Airbnb does not own any of the properties. It simply provides a platform from which people can rent out their properties or spare rooms to guests.Prices are set by the property owners and monies are collected via the Airbnb app.

There are many different types of Airbnbs. You can rent a room in someone’s house or a whole island and everything in between! I have stayed in some pretty cool Airbnbs myself, take a look at some of them in this post- 7 reasons why Airbnb is my favourite accommodation option.

Other examples of homestay platforms

There are many ways that a homestay can be arranged. Amongst the biggest and most known platforms that I have already discussed, there are also the following companies offering homestays:

Homestay app

There is an organisation who call themselves ‘homestay. This company organises homestay experiences for tourists around the world and has a functional app to facilitate this.

Available on iOS and Android, there are over 55,000 homestay accommodations in 160 countries available to rent via the app. You can find the perfect homestay for you, see what previous guests though and connect with the host family. See which cities are popular with guests looking for a homestay, and book whether you’re travelling for study, work or just a fun time!

Homestay advantages and disadvantages

As with everything, there are both advantages and disadvantages of a homestay. I have briefly outlined some of these for you below.

Advantages of a homestay

  • Ability to immerse yourself into a different culture
  • Free meals
  • Chance to taste new food
  • Educational benefits- learn about the culture, religion and way of life
  • Opportunity to live ‘like a local’
  • Save money

Disadvantages of a homestay

  • Limited freedom- curfews, religious requirements, household preferences
  • Limited choice of location
  • Safety concerns

What is a homestay? To conclude

You should now be confident to answer the questions ‘what is a homestay?’. By weighing up the advantages and the disadvantages, you can decide whether this type of accommodation is for you or not. An important part off the sharing economy, I don’t think the concept of homestay is going anywhere anytime soon…

Further reading on the concept of the homestay

Interested to learn more about homestays? Here is some recommended reading on the topic…