With Iran's tourism industry booming I reached out to our top Iranian hosts Isaac and Saba in Isfahan. I wanted to know why they signed up to hosts guests in their home. I was delighted to read their fascinating story on becoming hosts in May 2017. I've shared it here completely unedited. Take some time to read about how it all started with an unwelcome late night phone call. Isaac also offers some travel tips for Iran and his personal perspective on what it means to be a homestay host.
Isaac and Saba trekking in Mountains near their home
Firstly, I want to just thank you for providing this great website of yours that lets people meet, share ideas and experiences, and feel more confident and proud for who they are and where they come from. It removes a lot of misunderstandings and prejudices and helps visitors see for themselves that there are also humans here living their own dreams and ambitions as in any other corner of the world.
Homestay started with an accident. Saba and I are both teachers but at the time I was working as a coordinator with Austrian airlines which had just started the direct flights to Isfahan. They called me from the hotel reception to tell me that there was an elderly Austrian couple who wanted a room and they did not have a room for them.
It was 4 a.m. and I was not in my best mood. I told them it was not our job to provide hotel room for all Austrians travelling to Iran and we were responsible for the crew members only. I went down to the lobby and met Gabriel and her husband.
There was a flood of tourists in the city and no one had expected so many tourists to arrive. the hotels were fully reserved and it was not a good idea to arrive without having made the reservation in advance. What could we do for them? We began making calls to all the hotels we knew and in the meantime they sat in the lobby.
By 7 a.m. we had called every hotel in the city and there was absolutely no room. I walked to Gabby to tell them that we could not do anything for them. They looked tired and sleepy. “See, you have two choices, to take the first flight back home or to relax in my place until you decide what to do, see if we can find a hotel room.”
They made up their mind and I immediately took a taxi for them to go to our home, called Saba to tell her what I was doing while I was a bit unsure how she would welcome the idea.
She said it was OK, and this was our first homestay experience, we did not expect any money, we had never thought of doing homestay, did not think the apartment was big enough and had no idea how it worked.
We had had foreigners stay with us before but It was Gabriel (very smart woman) who assured us that the place was OK, and it was well-located and that we should try it and introduced us to HOMESTAY.com website.
Guest Nicoline enjoying a mountain sunset with Saba
We kept learning from the guests and we had clearer mind about how to do it. I have realized a number of things which I think now are central to the idea of homestay:
It is a great opportunity to meet people of all over the world, to socialize, to let people learn and to learn from them. You are mistaken if you do homestay while you do not genuinely enjoy meeting people, hosting them and sharing things with them....
So if there is anything you can do to help them have a more pleasant stay in your city, do it. Help them appreciate what the city and the culture and cuisine have to offer.
The guests stay with us not because they are mean, but because hotels are so impersonal and sad and boring (according to Yan, our guest from Hong Kong).
Cherish them even if they sometimes seem a bit difficult.
Sometimes for a joke I tell them that I am the father while they are staying with us. Ask if they have had something to eat, offer to take them to a doctor if they do not look well, talk to them if they are upset and ask for their idea if there is something going on. We sometimes ask the guests if they would like to share activities with us. we ask the guests if they want to come along with us to the garden or a relative’s home. We love shopping for fruit, playing our favorite music and going to the nature. A lot of guests have shared these with us. We have been to mountain together, done shopping together and we buy things the guests would like to try.
I always leave the money I get in front of the mirror or on the table and tell the guests: “if it was not what you expected, please take the money, don’t pay”. And I mean it. I will be very glad if the unsatisfied guests do not pay. The experience has been great, much better than we expected.
Isfahan has a great city to visit. It has almost everything. It was the capital of Iran around five centuries ago. But there are remainders of fire temples dating back over two thousand years. Many of the mosques that have been constructed and expanded in different stages of the history and bridges which are not built for people to cross but to pause, take their time and laze about.
In Isfahan, Muslims, Christians and Jews live next door to each other and I have never heard of members of these different religions fight of argue with each other over the religion they belong to. There are mosques, churches and synagogues near each other.
It provides all kinds of experiences, if you like desert, you can go to the east and within an hour you will arrive in the desert. If you prefer colder and green places, then head for the west. If you like mountain climbing, there is the Soffeh Mountain to the south which overlooks the city and it is our favourite place to go for walks. We often go there with our guests on a morning with other friends. You can also find hundreds of other Isfahanies there walking or having a picnic, dating, playing, singing.
It is quite safe too. I often tell the guests that they need to be as careful as they are in their hometown and they later tell us that they feel safer in Isfahan than they do in their hometown. The people invite the tourists to their homes or offer them snacks and things. The Iranian police is really easygoing with the tourists, too. The tourists sometimes do not quite follow the dress code. I have never heard of anyone having a problem.
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