Malawi's major cities are experiencing a boom in the number of lodges operating in residential areas, with Blantyre seeing an upswing in the last year.
Tourism players have attributed the development to changing tastes among Malawian and foreign travelers, as well as the increased need for privacy.
The Blantyre City Assembly (BCA) has, on the other hand, said, while the development is good for the city in terms of revenue generation and infrastructure development, it is trying its best to control the situation using applicable by-laws.
One of the lodge operators, Anne Fletcher, said her experience running Anne's Lodge in city business districts and residential areas has taught her that guests have varying tastes.
"As someone who has the passion to interact with, and learn about different cultures and people, I have come to learn that both residential and non-residential area lodges have their own trusted clients.
"For example, lodges operating from residential areas are becoming more attractive to people who cherish privacy and tranquil environments. People are becoming increasingly conscious about their privacy and now want to enjoy themselves in an environment that affords them maximum satisfaction," Fletcher said.
Fletcher, who runs a lodge in Nyambadwe low-residential suburb in Blantyre, added that lodges based in residential areas offer room for personalised services and intimate interaction.
"Lodges in residential areas will continue to attract increased numbers of people because owners have erected structures that match those offered by hotels. In the past, only hotels had facilities such as swimming pools, conference rooms, restaurants, and bars," Fletcher said.
Fletcher noted, however, that lodges located in residential areas did not attract visitors' figures matching those of similar institutions in busy areas.
On his part, Blue Lagoon Lodge's manager, Smarton Kaunda, said lodges in residential areas are preferred by some because "they offer people away from home a sense of being closer to home".
"Again, people increasingly prefer lodges located in residential areas because of the secure environment associated with residential areas. People are beginning to put their safety concerns before any other consideration, and this has helped lodgesgrow," Kaunda said. Blue Lagoon is situated in Chigumula, another low-density area in Blantyre.
Kaunda, who was speaking as an industry observer, added that privacy is another factor that has influenced the proliferation of lodges in residential areas.
"Things were different in the past, when most people would prefer to be accommodated in town because they wanted an environment that differed from that of their homes. Things started to change when lack of room space became a problem.
"Stranded people are the ones who have influenced this boom. When they tried our services, they developed tastes that have influenced them to opt for lodges in these (residential) areas than hotels in central business areas. It is an open secret that hotels are more expensive than lodges," Kaunda said.
However, Owen Misoya, a resident of Nyambadwe in Blantyre, noted that lodges situated in residential areas disturb city residents' right to a quiet environment.
"The other sad thing is that our children are being exposed to immoral behaviour. Some people use lodges in these (residential) areas for sexual purposes. You will find a married man going to a lodge with a girl the size of his own daughter and our children see these things," Misoya said.But Costly Chanza, Director of Town Planning and Estate Services at BCA, said in a separate interview that city fathers have put in place by-laws aimed at checking the construction of lodges and other tourism facilities in residential areas.
"We have a number of By-laws and instruments. We use the Building Code of Practice, which is assisted by public health and safety, as well as business laws. These have helped us control the situation," Chanza said.
Chanza said, among other measures, BCA has set five as the maximum number of lodges allowed to operate in one residential area.
"There are two types of lodges: those that used to be houses and are turned into lodges, and those constructed on plots meant for such facilities. For houses that have been turned into lodges, we ask owners that such facilities should have a maximum of 10 rooms, should have parking space, and that, while such facilities are allowed to operate bars, bars should cater for only (lodge) residents and not outsiders," Chanza said.
He also said people wishing to open new lodges in residential areas go through a rigorous process.
"First of all, they submit an application to BCA for a Town Planning decision to be taken. This application can either be rejected, or accepted. Then, we seek comments from residents around that area, as well as the input of other stakeholders including those in the tourism industry.
"These comments are tabled at the city planning council committee meeting and, if the application is approved, we give conditions that will protect neighbours. These conditions include that there must be no live-band performances, among others. These processes have helped us to control construction of lodges in residential areas," Chanza said.
Chanza said, however, that lodges in residential areas have eased the pressure on hotels, which he said are fewer in Malawi, and offer relatively expensive services as compared to lodges.