MAKKAH: What better way for tourists to experience the true, authentic culture of the country they are visiting than by spending time with locals, ideally in their homes, and joining in their traditional, day-to-day activities.
Hihome, an online platform established in 2019, aims to make this possible for visitors to Saudi Arabia, by bridging the gap between tourists and locals. In addition to providing accommodation, hosts can also offer traditional activities for guests so that they learn about and experience local culture and heritage firsthand.
These might include the brewing of traditional Saudi coffee, preparation of one of the host’s special family recipes, handicraft lessons, picking fruit on a farm, or simply spending time together listening to a host’s stories of life in the Kingdom.
Noura Al-Saadoun, the founder and general manager of Hihome, told Arab News that the philosophy behind the service is based on the principle of investing in the Saudi people and their homes, because they offer a great point of entry for visitors to learn about the culture of the country, and the wider region, and to engage with its people.
She said the idea for it came to her after visiting several foreign countries that have similar platforms and finding that the experiences they offer make a good impression on travelers. So when the Kingdom announced in 2019 that was offering tourist visas for the first time, Al-Saadoun realized it was the perfect opportunity to launch a service that could introduce visitors to the beauty and diversity of the Kingdom by providing them with an authentic Saudi experience in the home of a local family.
She said that there are currently more than 500 guests and hosts registered on the platform, and more than 80 registered experiences that have generated “wonderful feedback” from guests.
“What confirms this is the messages they send to us, which contain their photos and opinions about the experience, and we are proud to publish this feedback on our website to show how happy we are to host them in one of our Hihome experiences,” Al-Saadoun said.
In his review, Stefaniic, a tourist from Germany, said: “I thought I have been around the world, and I have been everywhere, but I have not been to Saudi Arabia. This is the first family home I visit in this country, and I tell you what … I love it. People are so friendly, so nice. They are so generous. You must come here.”
Another Hihome user, Mia from China, described her experience as “memorable days that cannot be forgotten.” She added that it was very interesting to visit a home in Riyadh, see all its decorations, designs and open spaces, and talk to the friendly people there.
“The most beautiful thing is that communications between guests and hosts do not end with the experience … rather, friendships are formed between them, through which exchange of knowledge about different cultures takes place between the two parties,” she added.
The registration process is simple, Al-Saadoun said; hosts simply create a listing on the Hihome website that includes a description and photos of the experience and the space, and the price.
The site’s team reviews all listings and suggests any amendments that might be required, and then it goes live. The site also offers hosts support and advice to help them develop and market their experiences.
“We have been honored to host people from several nations, such as Germany, Japan, America, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, India, Egypt, South Africa, Australia, Canada, Ukraine, Scotland, Singapore and Brazil, among others,” Al-Saadoun said.