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Monday, November 07, 2011, 16:00 Hrs  [IST]

Bed & Breakfast: A good concept gone haywire

Bed & Breakfast, a concept much trumpeted by the Union Ministry of Tourism and the various state tourism boards to contain the paucity of hotel rooms in India, is losing its charm due to apathy and lack of direction on the part of the authorities. Maansi Sharma revisits the once much-hyped accommodation programme

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By definition, a Bed and Breakfast unit (B&B) is an establishment that offers, as the name suggests, overnight accommodation and a morning meal. B&Bs typically offer a maximum of ten rooms for accommodation and only the morning meal. The rooms offered would usually be private bedrooms with bathrooms, for a hotel-like experience in a homely setting. In such establishments, usually the owners themselves stay within the premises, provide breakfast, do the housekeeping and deal directly with the guests. As a result, most B&Bs sprung from colonial private homes that had not more than ten bedrooms at the owner’s disposal.

The custom of opening one’s home to travellers is said to have begun in the 18th century in Colonial America. At that time, lodging establishments were few, and barring a few coaching inns, the only accommodation available was if someone lent the travellers a bed in their homes for a night for a minimal fee. This eventually became a business prospect. The fee was enough to be of financial aid to the owner, while being economically viable to the traveller.

B&B as an accommodation model, has of course, witnessed changes over the years. The 1980s and 1990s saw B&B establishments growing rapidly across the globe, with increase in numbers as well as quality. Lodgings went from simple rooms with attached bathrooms to historic structures converted into quaint accommodations, maintaining as much of the homely ambience as possible. In the 1990s, the internet took over and made it possible to market lodgings and offerings globally; offer easy online reservations, as well as to maintain relationships with guests after their departure.

B&B in India

The momentum tourism as an industry received in India after the successful Incredible India marketing campaign forced the authorities to look at alternative accommodation avenues to tie down the demand–supply gap in hotel accommodations. The Commonwealth Games 2010 were another major reason for the government to push the B&B scheme in a big way in the National Capital Region (NCR). As a result, an estimated 2,200 B&B units were registered in the country by October 2010.

The government came out with guidelines for registering units, and premises that met the criteria were certified under two categories - ‘Gold’ and ‘Silver’ - according to the location and the facilities they offered. To appeal to people, the government announced waivers in commercial electricity, house tax, water charges, etc., and hence, the scheme attracted a lot of house-owners and registrations exceeded even the authorities’ expectations. “We were at first skeptical about how B&B would fare, but it has been very successful. We have actually seen that international tourists come and stay in these units than domestic travellers. They thoroughly enjoy the experience, as it gives them an opportunity to interact with a family rather than a hotel staff. We do get support in terms of recommendations and promotions from a few tour operators, Club Mahindra being one of them. The Government also helped by registering and uploading our booking details on related tourism websites,” reveals Raman Saigal, Owner, Raman Saigal B&B, New Delhi, one of the first to avail of the scheme.

Expressing similar views, Charlotte Chopra, owner of Charlotte’s B&B, New Delhi said, “Tourism is a global concept and is growing at a good rate, especially in India. Owing to the shortage of rooms and the increasing costs of accommodation, B&Bs are doing well. There was an initial wariness about unknown people staying at our homes but that eventually wore off. It is a homely environment that helps put both us and the tourists at ease. The tourists especially love the local feel and the opportunity to interact with a family in a homely set up, which is the establishment’s USP. In addition, rates at such lodgings are kept reasonable so they do not add heavily to existing travel expenses. This concept is definitely on the road to success.”

top_071111_3.jpgDissenting Notes
One year after the Commonwealth Games, it is opportune to revisit many such government schemes promoted with a limited vision of national pride – the Commonwealth Games. Bed & Breakfast was one such scheme offered to all and sundry in the run up to the Commonwealth Games. Another much touted Commonwealth scheme by the Central Tourism Ministry was the upgradation of Guest Houses in the NCR.  The Ministry has almost forgotten both these schemes after the Games.  One year down the line, guest house owners are running helter-skelter in some of the clusters to save their properties from being sealed by civic authorities, while B&B owners are groping in the dark. A few smart ones have adapted with the changing times and are operating these units as full-fledged commercial accommodation units.  Those who stuck to the philosophy of the B&B scheme are yet to receive a single guest. Submits Maj Rajindra Singh Rana, who has been running a B&B unit out of his house in Gurgaon in the NCR – “I haven’t got a single query from anybody so far.” He has a ‘Silver’ certified B&B unit since 2009 which he renewed in 2011. Except for a few guests once in a while, who come generally for medical check ups in the nearby hospitals, he hasn’t received any guest despite being in the MoT’s B&B directory. “I’m still sticking to the principles of B&B. My family stays in the same premises and offers food, etc. to guests who come occasionally, and we also show them around as well,” he says.  However, most of the B&B units in and around Gurgaon have become full-fledged commercial accommodation units, he laments.

The B&B Directory on the Incredible India website has not been updated for almost a year now. A few of the units that still figure in the directory are not even in operation. One Dr Amita Chaturvedi in Gurgaon, whom this correspondent approached for feedback, said that they had “discontinued” with it long ago.  On the other hand, those who have upgraded their units and re-registered after due processes, are shown as “under process” in the directory.  AK Gupta, who has been running a B&B establishment from his residence at Sigma I, Greater Noida, from 2008 and had it re-registered in 2011 is still shown in the directory of B&B establishments in Greater Noida area as “under process.” “I was expecting some guests during the forthcoming Formula 1 races, but now my hopes are dashed,” he says. Gupta also questions the veracity of registration certificate that Ministry of Tourism offers to these establishments. “Without a proper registration number and the registering authority’s seal, even banks do not entertain these certificates,” he informs.

The situation is not different in God’s own Country, Kerala, where every one believes that homestays are quite evolved and matured. MP Sivadathan, Secretary, Kerala Homestay and Tourism Society (HATS), an umbrella association of homestay owners in Kerala, was more forthright while explaining the indifferent attitude of the tourism department towards the concept of homestay. “The homestay concept is on the verge of death in the state owing to government apathy. There is no vision to promote genuine homestays so that tourists coming into the state can have a better understanding of the life and culture of the state,” he says.  

While the tourism department has put in place guidelines for registering homestays, the number of unregistered and unauthorised homestays thriving with the connivance of the police and local authorities simply outnumber the authorised ones, he informed.  The tendency to operate illegally is so rampant that the owners can evade the commercial electricity tariff (7A Tariff), luxury tax, etc. that registered homestays have to pay. “While there are 90 legal homestays in Kochi, there are around 400-odd illegal homestays operating in and around the city,” Sivadathan says.

Kerala follows a different model of classification system for B&B units. The classification and inspection committee headed by the District Panchayat President of the respective districts comprise members of the district tourism promotion council (DTPC) and the hotel associations. HATS questions the credibility of a committee which does not have a HATS member in it. “Established hotels see homestays as a threat to their business. By including the representatives of the hotel association in the accreditation committee, the whole exercise gets scuttled,” he argues.  

The B&B concept has two main objectives. One is, of course, to give travellers an opportunity to stay with a local family and experience their hospitality, life and culture. That is the reason why the government has included a clause that dictates: “classification for Incredible India Bed & Breakfast/Homestay establishment will be given only in those cases where the owner/promoter of the establishment along with his/her family is physically residing in the same establishment and is letting out a minimum of one room and a maximum of six rooms (12 beds).” Secondly, it also gives the host an opportunity to earn an extra income by letting out the spare accommodation capacity available in his/her premises.

People who were hooked by the initial prospects of a homestay are having second thoughts now. In the absence of regular monitoring by the departments and the classification committee, most units have either become defunct or have turned into full-fledged commercial accommodation units. Commercialisation has become so rampant that it has become difficult to demarcate between guest houses and B&B units some areas. Today, some homestay room tariffs are as high as 3-star or 4-star hotels.

The objectives are undoubtedly noble and simple. The homestay concept has been in force in some developed countries for some decades now and has proved to be successful. But in India, the concept is yet to make its presence felt.

(With inputs from P Krishna Kumar)
 
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