$130 A NIGHTin this HDB flat

$130 A NIGHTin this HDB flat 

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FOUR years ago, homestays were touted as the new experience for tourists to Singapore who wanted some old-fashioned hospitality — instead of hotels, they could opt for the cocoon of a friendly local home.

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But the concept fizzled out last year after Amcis Homestay, the largest operator of its kind, ran into logistical and supply problems.

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Blissfully unaware, entrepreneur Fred Seow set up Realhomexp last month. “I was enthusiastic enough to think this idea was brand new,” he said with a laugh.

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But Mr Seow, 46, has given serious thought to his business plan :— he is targeting the “mature, mid-level and upwards” traveller, and plans to provide authentic snippets of Singapore life to his customers, who can opt for stays at homes ranging from HDB flats to bungalows.

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A trip to the wet market, watching one’s host prepare a local meal, a guided trip to a Hungry Ghost Festival dinner :— these are some highlights for visitors who sign up at Realhomexp.com.

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A travel and tourism veteran, Mr Seow has roped in about 30 homes for his three-pronged showcase of Singaporean life. Besides homestays, he offers home visits to tourists who just want to savour a five-course home-cooked meal, as well as home events, where a licensed tour guide takes visitors to a local wedding or festival celebration.

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The selected homeowners have what he calls “homes with a personality, the ability to make visitors feel at home, and the willingness to teach and educate”. Rates per room range from $130 to $300.

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One of the ambassadors, homemaker Michelle Ezen Berry, 42, will put up guests at her three-room Bukit Panjang flat :(picture) and show them the coffee shops and fishing lakes in the area, hoping they’ll have “good memories to take back with them”.

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Meanwhile Ms Wendy Tan, 51, has spruced up two rooms on the third-storey of her Kovan home for visitors. Each room comes with freshly-made beds, wardrobes, a radio, a thermos flask and snacks. “I may not know the style or customs of my guests but I’m prepared to be flexible,” said the bubbly housewife, who has hosted friends from China and Japan before.

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Realhomexp differs from AMCIS Homestay in several areas. The latter was set up in 2004 by the :Association of Management Corporations in Singapore (AMCIS), mainly to provide a supplementary income for Singapore’s ageing population, said Mr Francis Zhan, AMCIS Homestay’s former chief executive.

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Its rates – at about $50 a day for a room in a condominium – were similar to a budget hotel’s, but better in terms of security and service rendered, said Mr Zhan.

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But as rental prices spiked last year, more elderly folk opted to rent out their apartments for the long term, creating a supply crunch. And as its homes were “scattered all over the island”, the group faced logistical problems when big student or tour groups requested for homes clustered in one area, he said.

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Both Mr Zhan and Mr Seow believe there is still much potential in homestays, especially for tourists who’ve been to Singapore before and seek a novel experience.

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The Singapore Tourism Board agreed that homestays could provide visitors with an “interesting local experience”, but said operators would have to work independently for now. “The market is still a relatively niche one and not a priority in STB’s development plans at present. That said, if there are any good homestay proposals, STB will review and support them on a case-by-case basis,” said Ms Caroline Leong, STB’s director of travel services and hospitality business.

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To keep guests coming back, the home ambassadors said sincerity, and not money, had to be the motivating factor.

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“I had a good time and did it as a hobby; the emphasis cannot be on making money,” said Ms Monica Lee, 60, who stopped offering homestays last year when she got tied up with another business venture.

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Money is also secondary for Realhomexp ambassador Janine Campbell, 40, who lives in a colonial bungalow in the Alexandra area and is open to home visits. “Everytime I drive into the house, I just feel so lucky to be living here and I want to share it with others,” said Ms Campbell, who has lived in Singapore for two years with her husband and three kids.

 

Source: Today Newspaper

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