Since its inception, Community Homestay Network has been working directly with communities to promote the community homestay model to experience Nepal while increasing the socio-economic benefit-sharing among local communities. The community homestay model enables living with the locals and creates a tourism value chain that generates job opportunities and improves livelihoods. Between the year 2017 and March 2020, before the halt of tourism due to the pandemic, we were able to host around 8000 travelers in various community homestays within our network. Before the pandemic, the community homestay model had been a viable option for rural communities to diversify their income sources. Even during the uncertainties, when we were reflecting on the testimonies from our previous travelers on how they loved the unique experience with their host families, we saw the potential and opportunities of community homestays. Hopeful of travelers’ return to the local communities to experience the off-the beaten paths after the pandemic, we wanted to support and keep our communities motivated during the COVID-19 situation.
Nepal has always been a famous name in the international travel community, mostly known for its mountains. However, we often miss its rich culture and immense knowledge passed down from one generation to another. So when the pandemic hit the country, we started to work on highlighting this aspect. We thought even if the travelers could not visit the communities, we could at least bring products from the local communities within our network to the world outside. To help communities in difficult times, with the support from Booking.com’s Booking Booster program, we initiated the Project Collaboration, which supported ten tourism-dependent communities to develop and market 12 local products that range from traditional Nepali slippers to clarified butter (ghee). The main idea of this project was to capacitate tourism-dependent communities to diversify their source of income through product development. We envisioned creating a product value chain that stimulates local economies and named the project Koseli. Koseli literally translates as a gift in Nepali, so through this project, we wanted to collaborate with communities to increase the accessibility of their products to others.
As we undertook this project during the pandemic, we had quite a few challenges attached to it. Still, with intensive marketing and support from Royal Mountain Travel and sister concerns, Bricks Cafe and Traditional Comfort, we gradually created a demand in the market. One of our most significant accomplishments was when the local communities believed in their entrepreneurial skills with the sustainable platform we created through Koseli. Koseli has also been able to make that space with capacity building training, branding and marketing of the local products. Travel and tourism is a vulnerable industry and we cannot foresee the various risks that may hit the communities dependent on them. It’s only wise that we translate the learning from this pandemic to support a diversified source of income which would create continuous support. With this realization, instead of wrapping up the project after its completion, we decided to strategize Koseli permanently as a unit inside Community Homestay Network in 2021.
For such continuous efforts to support our communities during the pandemic, we were globally recognized as Ones to Watch in the Responsible Tourism Award 2021 for growing the local economic benefit and also awarded with Dr. Andreas Schild Memorial Mountain Prize 2021 by ICIMOD for supporting the local communities during the pandemic. With recognition and awards comes the responsibility to do and create better opportunities.
As the world is slowly opening up for travel and tourism, we thought of expanding the horizons of Koseli. Koseli was born in the community and has worked with the community ever since. As Koseli is driven by the motto “From our community to yours” it has diligently tried to bring tangible Koselis from different communities. As we are evolving, we are also planning to bring our communities’ intangible assets and products. We have been exploring the unique cultures and traditions of our communities and trying to bring them to the world outside. A few months back, we tried to bring the tradition of Ranjana Lipi writing from Kirtipur Homestay for the other communities and travelers to enjoy. We tried to curate the event with the locals from Kirtipur Community Homestay with the fun element of painting the traditional Newari Script. The environment was made vibrant with the traditionally fermented Newari Drink; Aila. The attempt was well received and appreciated by the participants.
We believe that in a country with more than 100 ethnic communities and diverse cultures, we will be able to collaborate with these very communities in bringing out their tangible and intangible assets as a gift from their communities to others.