The 2015 earthquake and last year’s Indian blockade dealt a blow to Nepal’s tourism, and the number of visitors plummeted by one-third. However, travel websites like TripAdvisor and Booking.com are bringing in a new breed of visitors who shun tourist ghettos like Thamel and prefer to stay in heritage homes in historic towns like Patan.
New boutique hotels and homestays have sprung up in Bhaktapur, Kirtipur, Patan and even further afield with bed and breakfast lodgings in Bandipur which cater to individual travellers looking for a more authentic local experience, and who book their stays online.
In Patan, new family-run lodges that are a cross between homestays and guest houses get most of their guests through online bookings. The trend has been pushed by the ‘voluntourists’ who came to Nepal in large numbers after the earthquake to help with relief work as well as trek.
“The reviews on the Internet have opened us up to a wider audience,” says Renish Maharjan from Lalit Heritage Home which overlooks Patan Darbar Square. The guesthouse has recently changed its management structure to cater to its growing online presence.
Guest houses are much more intimate, our whole family is involved. Tourists like homestays better because they know the money is going in the pocket of the locals and not to a larger hotel chain.
Shailendra Shrestha , Tajaa Pha Heritage Home
Our guesthouses are renovated from our ancestral homes and tourists prefer the authentic heritage experience.
Buddha Ram Ranjit, The Inn
The tourism industry has seen the emergence of Fully Independent Travelers (FIT), and as a result tourists have become more reliant on the online reviews of tourists rather than travel agents.
“Customers that come into our homestay know all about it before they even walk through the door,” says Shailendra Shrestha, the owner of Tajaa Pha Heritage Home in Patan’s Pim Bahal.
Buddha Ram Ranjit, owner of The Inn guesthouse in Swotha Square receives between 50-60 emails a day with requests and queries from prospective guests. He believes having an online presence and a portal for communication helps tailor the homestay experience of guests and provide feedback.
Tourists that are coming to Nepal are changing their tastes and it seems that locals are catching on to the trend with new guest houses now coming up in Bhaktapur and Patan as alternatives to Thamel. They are mostly upgraded ancestral property some of which have been in the family for over 300 years.
Canadian tourist and volunteer, Maria Abdelmalik has visited Nepal three times and prefers to stay at a guesthouse in Patan. “It becomes like a family home, we often share meals with the owners and they tell us about the history of the Valley,” she said of her experience at Tajaa Pha Heritage Home.
Patan is a cosy community with a lot of history. I’m here for a while so this is the one place that feels like home and it’s in a close proximity to things like the supermarket and Darbar Square.
Maria Abdelmalik, Canada
Patan Darbar Sqaure is definitely quieter than other places in Kathmandu Valley and you can notice it’s a lot cleaner too, making it pleasantly walkable.
Peter Agnew, United States
These guest houses, however, are not just attracting tourists. Researchers, volunteers and workers from abroad are also choosing to reside in the area. During the Photo Kathmandu Festival, international photographers from National Geographic, World Press Photo and other media opted for the Patan homestay experience.
Tajaa Pha’s Shrestha believes that Patan’s popularity has made the surrounding guest houses more attractive. He says: “From the moment your eyes open in the morning until you close them in the evening, you have a feeling that you are living as a local.”
Tourism is down, but not out, Om Astha Rai