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Rotorua-based entrepreneur Julia Charity launched the Homestay Network offering international visitors a real taste of Kiwi hospitality at a reasonable cost, during the lead up to the Rugby World Cup. And now is the first with her hand up to assist to make guests feel even more welcome with the upcoming self-drive Hobbiton tours.
"Homestays is already well tested, particularly in Matamata with their Hobbiton Movie Set and Farm Tours” says Julia. “New Zealanders have this great reputation of warm and welcoming hospitality which has gone down well with tourists but I’d love to see ordinary kiwis trying a homestay experience.”
Hobbiton General Manager Russell Alexandra said the release of the first Lord of the Rings movie saw numbers through the Matamata i-site soar from 50, 000 a year in 2002 to 367,000 in 2004. With the launch of the movie later in the year, New Zealanders and tourists are expected to take self-drive and organised Hobbit Tours all over the country. Charity says “Homestays are a great way to meet real New Zealanders and have an authentic experience in truly stunning locations. It’s only logical to keep extending that network throughout the Waikato, the Bay of Plenty and beyond. It’s about connecting warm faces in great places.”
The Look After Me ‘Virtual Hotel’ currently has over 120 rooms all around New Zealand and has assisted with meeting demand for accommodation at events like Art Deco in Napier and the Ellerslie Flower Show in Christchurch. With upcoming events in the Waikato like the Field Days in June and the Karapiro Rowing Masters in September, commercial accommodation will be tight, but this ‘pop-up’ hotel concept appears to be working well for both guests and hosts.
Aside from activities like self-drive Hobbit Tours, cyclists wanting to explore the new cycle trails and walkers of the Te Ara Roa (the Long walkway) mean that guests are often looking for a totally memorable experience. “What’s becoming more important, particularly for our mature guests is peace of mind and the quality of connections with like-minded people,” says Julia. I think homestays also offer a great alternative for women travelling by themselves, whether to visit a new grandbaby, attend a funeral, have treatment for business, or a couple escaping for the weekend.”
“It’s the way forward,” says Hamilton-based business woman Irene Kereama-Royal who home-stayed in Rotorua this week. “I was pleasantly surprised. It was very modern and private and being right by the lake, the setting was idyllic. We even had our all-day business meeting there. It was definitely a bonus not having to pay extra for email, parking or a decent coffee!”
Unlike other hospitality websites, Look After Me vets all hosts to make sure they are genuinely interested in providing hospitality, that they can provide local information and are priced realistically. “There is no obligation to provide meals, but hosts are welcome to do so, even if it is a matter of preparing a trusty favourite.”
Waikato-based hosts Desley and Steve McGougan say “we’ve been hosting guests for nine years now and love it. We’re quite excited to be part of this new Homestay Network. We’re real farming people and have a real range of visitors. I can imagine holiday makers enjoying the wonder of this country but staying on a farmstay or in a homestay - well they get to see the people as well. Warm faces in great places I suppose."
Guests are matched to hosts where there is likely to be an instant connection through shared interests (like farming, cycling, gardening, walking cuisine or wine) and they can rate their experience afterwards. Look After Me offers a ‘hotel-at-home’ experience by providing hosts with an exquisite range of toiletries and hand-made chocolates for guests.
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