How Indonesia’s homestays give authentic local experiences for tourists, but face concerns from authorities and competition from hotels

Indonesian homestays provide struggling families with an alternative revenue source while offering tourists a more authentic experience
But government concerns over accommodation standards have slowed development as authorities seek to better regulate the industry


Harry Gobel’s first homestay in his native Gorontalo, a province in eastern Indonesia, was so popular that the local government repeatedly got him to lead training sessions on running this class of low-budget guest accommodation.
But then suddenly things changed and a year ago officials told him to shut down his homestay operation.

Gobel and his wife Mimin had been hosting foreign tourists in their home for more than a decade when the government ordered them to close their doors. Locals had begun complaining about loud foreigners, while taxi drivers diverted tourists to hotels, claiming the homestay was already closed, or illegal. Gobel suspects this misinformation was a result of hotels pressuring drivers, possibly with the promise of a commission.

In this remote part of Indonesia, on the sprawling island of Sulawesi, most tourists are only passing through on their way to the diving hotspots of the Togean Islands, or Bunaken in Manado. During busy periods, some even sleep on floors wherever accommodation will let them. The Gobels say their homestay was rarely unoccupied.

Homestays can be an attractive business for homeowners seeking an alternative source of income, but at the local level – as the Gobels have found out – the initiative is not always welcome.

In a place like Gorontalo, where the local government is devoting resources to developing the area into a tourism hotspot, homestay development can stall a hotel boom. But in more rural areas, local people live in top spots for eco-tourism, and it can provide families with much-needed income.

When their livelihood was threatened last year by the government, the Gobels and their two children moved to a village on the edge of their city. They built two cottages next to their new house, which is surrounded by rice fields set against a lake. Their sago palm walls are almost see-through, sounds permeate, and the day’s heat can be hard to bear. Chickens peck at your feet if you sit too long. Once, when a local learned that it was a tourist homestay, he gasped: “That’s a house for goats!”

But the couple do not intend to cater to tourists more used to traditional Western-style hotel accommodation, instead offering the authentic experience of an Indonesian home. The popularity of their homestays illustrates just how feasible the business model is.

“Instead of you experiencing our way of life, we [should] change ourselves to live the way you live? That’s not good,” Gobel says, as he sits underneath his handcrafted, grass-roofed patio, where guests drink their morning coffee. He and Mimin, in their 30s, rarely go a week without guests, and their earnings help pay the children’s school fees.


Harry Gobel’s first homestay in his native Gorontalo, a province in eastern Indonesia, was so popular that the local government repeatedly got him to lead training sessions on running this class of low-budget guest accommodation.
But then suddenly things changed and a year ago officials told him to shut down his homestay operation.

Gobel and his wife Mimin had been hosting foreign tourists in their home for more than a decade when the government ordered them to close their doors. Locals had begun complaining about loud foreigners, while taxi drivers diverted tourists to hotels, claiming the homestay was already closed, or illegal. Gobel suspects this misinformation was a result of hotels pressuring drivers, possibly with the promise of a commission.

In this remote part of Indonesia, on the sprawling island of Sulawesi, most tourists are only passing through on their way to the diving hotspots of the Togean Islands, or Bunaken in Manado. During busy periods, some even sleep on floors wherever accommodation will let them. The Gobels say their homestay was rarely unoccupied.

Homestays can be an attractive business for homeowners seeking an alternative source of income, but at the local level – as the Gobels have found out – the initiative is not always welcome.

In a place like Gorontalo, where the local government is devoting resources to developing the area into a tourism hotspot, homestay development can stall a hotel boom. But in more rural areas, local people live in top spots for eco-tourism, and it can provide families with much-needed income.

When their livelihood was threatened last year by the government, the Gobels and their two children moved to a village on the edge of their city. They built two cottages next to their new house, which is surrounded by rice fields set against a lake. Their sago palm walls are almost see-through, sounds permeate, and the day’s heat can be hard to bear. Chickens peck at your feet if you sit too long. Once, when a local learned that it was a tourist homestay, he gasped: “That’s a house for goats!”

But the couple do not intend to cater to tourists more used to traditional Western-style hotel accommodation, instead offering the authentic experience of an Indonesian home. The popularity of their homestays illustrates just how feasible the business model is.

“Instead of you experiencing our way of life, we [should] change ourselves to live the way you live? That’s not good,” Gobel says, as he sits underneath his handcrafted, grass-roofed patio, where guests drink their morning coffee. He and Mimin, in their 30s, rarely go a week without guests, and their earnings help pay the children’s school fees.
We are developing guidelines on Indonesian [accommodation] standards, but not ignoring international standards, especially regarding cleanliness and Wi-fi

Anneke Prasyanti, tourism officer in charge of homestay development in Indonesia
In 2016, Indonesia’s tourism ministry said it would earmark US$4.2 billion to create 100,000 homestays as an alternative to hotel accommodation for the country’s annual 15 million foreign visitors and almost 280 million domestic tourists.
However, despite the state government initially embracing the low-capital, locally owned business model, the initiative became “too complicated”, according to the Indonesian tourism ministry’s officer in charge of homestay development, Anneke Prasyanti.

Prasyanti now leads the programme to add 10,000 homestays in 200 villages across the Indonesian archipelago – a much smaller number than the original government target of 100,000 in 2016. Following guidelines developed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, officials aim to put in place certain standards regarding the facilities at each of the open-house residences in the scheme.

“We are developing guidelines on Indonesian [accommodation] standards, but not ignoring international standards, especially regarding cleanliness and Wi-fi,” Prasyanti says. A Western toilet would be a standard, but she admits it does not make sense as a requirement in some rural areas. So far, only about 20 per cent of the 10,000 potential homestays meet the required standards.

Among those that fail to meet guidelines are thin-walled cottages where roosters awaken guests, while some homestays are in very remote areas where a phone signal isn’t guaranteed.



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