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B&Bs set in rus­tic old es­tates are flour­ish­ing in the city as more trav­el­ers seek an au­then­tic lo­cal ex­pe­ri­ence

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI -

pay it for­ward when he rented an apart­ment, putting his con­tact de­tails on­line and of­fer­ing free stays to peo­ple.

He was later told by a friend that he could turn his apart­ment into a B&B to make a lit­tle ex­tra cash. He soon ad­ver­tised his place on Airbnb and al­most im­me­di­ately re­ceived book­ings. His first guest was a Chi­nese cou­ple and the sec­ond was a Ger­man back­packer.

A con­stant stream of book­ings soon ig­nited Jiang’s pas­sion for the busi­ness. This was when he de­cided to rent the apart­ment in a shiku­men to kick­start his B&B ven­ture. Be­cause of his love for Ja­panese cul­ture, he de­cided to in­fuse the space with a theme to re­flect this. For ex­am­ple, he trans­formed the 10-squareme­ter yard at the en­trance into an zen-like space with a glass roof, bam­boos, dec­o­ra­tive stones and tatami mats. In­side, he added a touch of moder­nity by us­ing re­mote con­trolled lights.

Busi­ness can at times get over­whelm­ing, es­pe­cially when he de­cides to ad­ver­tise on mul­ti­ple plat­forms.

“If I take nice pic­tures of the apart­ment, put the in­for­ma­tion on sev­eral on­line sites and so­cial net­works and of­fer dis­counts, the ac­com­mo­da­tion will be fully booked for a whole month,” said Jiang, who was born in North­east China and moved to Shang­hai at the age of 10.

Jiang said that turn­ing a profit is not the main con­cern. Rather, the busi­ness is more about a sense of shar­ing and mak­ing new friends. Jiang has had more than 100 peo­ple, in­clud­ing around 50 for­eign­ers, stay at his B&B since its launch and many have be­come his good friends. He fre­quently uses the rental fees to buy ad­di­tional fur­nish­ings for the home, say­ing that this helps “cre­ate a pos­i­tive cy­cle”.

Xiao Zaozi, a car­toon­ist from Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion, stayed two nights at this apart­ment in June. The ex­te­rior of a wardrobe in a room was empty dur­ing her stay and Jiang had planned to in­vite an artist to draw a pic­ture of Mount Fuji onto it. How­ever, Xiao of­fered to fill the space up for free, and she painted an illustration of wind bells, bam­boos and cats.

But lodg­ing is not the only ser­vice that Jiang pro­vides. The 25-year-old oc­ca­sion­ally takes his guests on free tours to the sur­round­ing old com­mu­ni­ties and bustling com­mer­cial dis­tricts, let­ting them taste the lo­cal del­i­ca­cies and telling them about the city’s sto­ries.

“I share my world with oth­ers by of­fer­ing my home for a trav­eler to stay. I be­lieve this is what a trav­eler, Chi­nese or for­eign, would like to get from the stay — get­ting a taste of a lo­cal’s life in such a his­tor­i­cal com­mu­nity. Hope­fully the place felt like home for them,” he said.

Jiang said that this pas­sion for shar­ing has also mo­ti­vated him to go the ex­tra mile for guests, such as pro­vid­ing bath­room ameni­ties, a tea set, wine glasses and even a baby’s bath­tub.

“I call this a life ex­pe­ri­ence space, which is bet­ter than a typ­i­cal B&B ac­com­mo­da­tion. I hope B&B is not deemed as an­other op­tion to ho­tels be­cause of its price su­pe­ri­or­ity. I hope more peo­ple can re­spect those who are will­ing to open and share their homes,” he said.

Con­trary to how most peo­ple per­ceive the busi­ness, those run­ning a B&B busi­ness don’t just rent an old apart­ment, sit back and watch their bank ac­counts grow. There is of­ten much re­search and leg­work that needs to be done.

“Some of th­ese old build­ings may be de­mol­ished soon while some of the rooms within may have been il­le­gally ex­panded. As ten­ants we have to dig for a lot of in­for­ma­tion be­fore make this in­vest­ment,” said Yang Anna, a B&B owner.

Yang had rented six apart­ments in the former French Con­ces­sion — a fa­vorite with for­eign­ers be­cause of its his­tory

Barny­bas Covey, and the charm­ing ar­chi­tec­ture of the build­ings — and listed them on­line last De­cem­ber af­ter fur­nish­ing each with ba­sic ap­pli­ances and fur­ni­ture.

“The prof­its were con­sid­er­able in the first few months but it has since slowed down as more peo­ple have en­tered the busi­ness and the com­pe­ti­tion has started price wars,” said Yang, a 27-year-old Shang­hai na­tive.

Yang soon re­al­ized that she could not han­dle all as­pects of the busi­ness alone and de­cided to hire some­one to clean the homes af­ter guests had checked out. She said that the fees she get now can hardly cover the rent and the cleaner’s salary.

At times, Yang also has to deal with neg­a­tive com­ments put up on the book­ing sites by guests.

“A guest once com­plained that the bath­room was ren­o­vated from an at­tic and the wa­ter pres­sure was too weak. But that is a com­mon thing in the old com­mu­ni­ties. Any neg­a­tive com­ment made on­line about my fa­cil­i­ties may de­ter fu­ture guests from book­ing,” Yang said.

Chen said that there are sev­eral am­bi­tious B&B op­er­a­tors like Yang who in­vest most of their sav­ings to rent sev­eral apart­ments in hope of a hand­some profit. How­ever, when the busi­ness grad­u­ally ex­pands and in­volves man­ag­ing nearly 10 B&B fa­cil­i­ties, man­age­ment be­comes a prob­lem.

“When that hap­pens, the only ad­van­tage B&Bs have is price, but even so they’ll find it hard to com­pete with eco­nom­i­cal chain

ho­tels,” Chen said.

Al­though the B&B industry is thriv­ing, such lodg­ing op­tions ac­tu­ally fall within a grey zone in terms of le­git­i­mate com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions. Ac­cord­ing to Chi­nese law, a ho­tel must be reg­is­tered with the industry and com­merce author­i­ties as well as pass checks in fire safety and san­i­ta­tion.

Yang said she had con­sulted the author­i­ties be­fore start­ing her busi­ness but dis­cov­ered that there wasn’t a busi­ness li­cense that ap­plied to B&B fa­cil­i­ties. Jiang also hides what he is do­ing from his neigh­bors, liken­ing him­self to an il­le­gal cab driver.

Ac­cord­ing to lawyers, prob­lems can arise when such ac­com­mo­da­tions are un­pro­tected by law.

“If the guest com­mits un­law­ful or crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties in the res­i­dence, the owner of the house will be held ac­count­able,” said Fu Zhong­wen, a se­nior part­ner at Long’an Law Firm.

On­line rental sites also en­cour­age the op­er­a­tors of B&B ac­com­mo­da­tion and the lodgers not to trade pri­vately as this would make it hard for me­di­a­tion to take place. “Be­cause both par­ties have reg­is­tered their real names on our plat­form, we can help deal with dis­putes if any arises,” said Chen.

One of the most com­mon dis­putes is when a guest re­al­izes that the apart­ment looks noth­ing like what was de­picted in pho­tos.

“Our so­lu­tion is to des­ig­nate our pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers to take pic­tures of the ac­com­mo­da­tions to en­sure min­i­mum dif­fer­ence,” Chen said.

Tourism industry in­sid­ers have said the un­li­censed op­er­a­tion of B&B fa­cil­i­ties is be­com­ing a prob­lem on the Chi­nese main­land and that the bur­geon­ing sec­tor will ac­tu­ally flour­ish if it falls un­der the su­per­vi­sion of the gov­ern­ment.

“Be­fore the 2008 Bei­jing Olympic Games, nearly 600 house­holds in the tra­di­tional quad­ran­gle dwellings of Bei­jing were des­ig­nated as spe­cial guest­houses for do­mes­tic and for­eign vis­i­tors. There are still 33 of those now,” said Zhang Guan­grui, hon­orary di­rec­tor of the Tourism Re­search Cen­ter at the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences.

“The tourism author­ity in other ci­ties can learn from this method and make such B&B fa­cil­i­ties a le­git­i­mate busi­ness to pro­tect the op­er­a­tors and guard the rights and in­ter­ests of trav­el­ers. It also al­lows vis­i­tors to be bet­ter in­te­grated into the lo­cal com­mu­nity,” he said.

a trav­eler

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

A view of the dec­o­ra­tive el­e­ments in some of the B&B homes in Shang­hai.

Jiang Yuan, who runs a bed-and-break­fast (B&B) es­tab­lish­ment, chats with a lodger, Ste­fan Sch­mid from Ger­many, in the home lo­cated in the former French Con­ces­sion area in Shang­hai.

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