Changing China

Giant on the move

A homely alternative?

July 9, 2008

tourist3.jpg

By Kitty Bu

For many of the tourists expected to descend on Beijing for next month’s Olympics, an authentic Chinese home may be where the heart is. Beijing has recruited over 1,000 households to provide rooms during the Games. Like all other aspects of the Olympics, the “home stay” experience is regulated, with officials inspecting the ventilation, lighting, sanitary conditions, fire safety, bathroom facilities, location, transportation — and even the family pets. Other requirements include the “Olympic families” dressing appropriately, having good manners and basic Olympic knowledge, as well as the willingness to act as tour guides.

tourist2.jpgThe restrictions have not put off film critic Zhao Jing, who has decided to rent out her own bedroom to help visitors make the most of their China stay. And she’s already got her tourist — a German man. “Because of globalisation, young people’s lifestyles are becoming more and more similar,” Zhao reckons. “This friend is coming to China to experience the country’s authentic culture. He wants to have a similar lifestyle to Chinese people. He wants to know how Chinese eat, drink. All I need to do is to show him how I live.”

The 1,000 rooms with “Olympic families” are to supplement the city’s 220,000 beds in 806 star-rated hotels, as, according to officials, supply may still fall short of demand, especially close to the sports venues. Tourism officials said homestay rooms will cost between $50 and $80 a night.

But retired school teacher Yuan Xiaoqing, who is offering rooms in her nine-bedroom apartment, is happy to charge just $15 for a place to stay, three meals a day and the chance to go on hiking tours with the family to the Great Wall and other sites. Yuan has hosted foreign visitors before, and said she liked the experiencing new cultures without leaving home. Even so, she’s preparing herself for culture shock. “Foreign students like to stay out all night on the weekend. But in more intellectual and traditional Chinese households, there is no way the kids would go out like that.”

tourist1.jpgSeeing an opportunity, many companies have set up websites to match families with prospective visitors, who then pay them a day’s rent for their services. Jake Cooke, who runs chinahomestay, says many companies are pushing up prices to unrealistic levels which he says are unlikely to last. “I think even the hotels that have tried to raise the rates, they’re just not having the bookings that they expected to. People of course can raise the rates a bit, but 500 percent is extremely unreasonable. They’re just not going to be able to sell those rooms,” he reckons.

Pix from top:  A man walks in his courtyard garden inside a traditional alleyway, or hutong, in central Beijing. A man stands at the entrance of his house in central Beijing )snaps by Jason Lee). Tourists at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing (by Claro Cortes IV).

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