The World of Chinese - - Contents - – HATTY LIU

Bei­jing has be­come the lat­est in a hand­ful of Chi­nese cities to grant li­censes to minsu (民宿, pri­vate guest­houses and bed-and­break­fasts), an­other step for­ward in clear­ing up an am­bi­gu­ity in the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try that has been stymieing in­de­pen­dent tourism and caus­ing reg­u­la­tory headaches.

Un­der the new “Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal Tourism Reg­u­la­tions,” which went into ef­fect on Au­gust 1, minsu are de­fined as pri­vate res­i­dences in ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas that ac­com­mo­date tourists, and are “con­sis­tent with the lo­cal cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment, nat­u­ral land­scape, and eco­log­i­cal re­sources.” The city also in­tends to pub­lish de­tailed guide­lines for the li­cens­ing and man­age­ment of minsu by next year.

Shang­hai and Fu­jian prov­ince pre­vi­ously gave of­fi­cial recog­ni­tion to minsu in 2016 (a few other cities, such as Hangzhou and Shen­zhen, also rec­og­nize them in of­fi­cial “rec­om­men­da­tions” or pi­lot projects in cer­tain dis­tricts). Pre­vi­ously, the only busi­ness legally al­lowed to ac­com­mo­date tourists was a bin­guan (宾馆, “ho­tel”), which typ­i­cally re­quired own­ers to go through rig­or­ous li­cens­ing pro­ce­dures for at least five ba­sic per­mits—busi­ness, san­i­ta­tion, rev­enue of­fice, a spe­cial per­mit from lo­cal pub­lic se­cu­rity bu­reau (PSB), and fire safety—the last of which costs tens of thou­sands of RMB, with de­mands that are al­most im­pos­si­ble for a typ­i­cal Chi­nese res­i­dence to meet.

The rise of “in­de­pen­dent tourism” (tourism in­de­pen­dent of a travel agency or group) has led to var­i­ous types of ac­com­mo­da­tion be­ing of­fered out­side the bin­guan sys­tem, many in­side pri­vate homes—back­packer hos­tels, home and farm­stays, and Airbnb-type short-term rentals. A 2016 study by travel web­site Mafengwo states that de­mand for such ac­com­mo­da­tion rose 500 per­cent from 2015 to 2016, though did not give a base fig­ure. Ru­ral of­fi­cials also en­cour­age minsu as a way to boost the lo­cal econ­omy; some have even started of­fer­ing prop­er­ties rent-free to at­tract out­side en­trepreneurs (see cover story, page 32).

Nev­er­the­less, the le­gal am­bi­gu­ity meant that pri­vate guest­houses were never safe from crack­downs: In a pre­vi­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tion, three un­li­censed hos­tel own­ers told TWOC that they face chal­lenges reg­is­ter­ing guests with lo­cal po­lice, while most ho­tels use a uni­fied on­line sys­tem. In­stead, they em­ploy work­arounds, such as keep­ing their own records (as in the case of one hos­tel ac­cred­ited by YHA China) or sim­ply “tak­ing qual­ity guests, not hang­ing up signs, not dis­turb­ing the neigh­bors,” and hop­ing for the best (as in one un­li­censed hos­tel on Airbnb).

Re­cently one pro­pri­etor, who pre­ferred to re­main anony­mous, told TWOC that some lo­ca­tions of his hos­tel chain have had to stop tak­ing guests with­out a Chi­nese ID, as the lo­cal PSB deemed their record-keep­ing meth­ods faulty. Though reg­u­la­tions ban­ning for­eign­ers from cer­tain ho­tels were lifted in 2005, many of China’s smaller op­er­a­tions are still leery about ac­com­mo­dat­ing them due to the ex­tra has­sle in­volved—part of of­fi­cial­dom’s per­sis­tent bat­tle to keep tabs on

the “float­ing pop­u­la­tion.”

These reg­is­tra­tion is­sues mean minsu and other pri­vate ac­com­mo­da­tions are pe­ri­od­i­cally forced to close in mi­grant-heavy cities, such as Guangzhou, as well as prior to ma­jor in­ter­na­tional events, like the 2016 G20 Sum­mit in Hangzhou, and BRICS Sum­mit in Xi­a­men— though Xi­a­men author­i­ties have de­nied any con­nec­tion and claim they are also try­ing to come up reg­u­la­tions to stan­dard­ize minsu.

Sixth Tone has re­ported, how­ever, that busi­ness is al­ready suf­fer­ing in the pop­u­lar tourist city. In Bei­jing, author­i­ties are also hop­ing that by grant­ing le­gal sta­tus to minsu, the tourism in­dus­try in its sub­ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas can at­tract a new, af­flu­ent class of trav­el­ers that in­creas­ingly de­mand “leisure and sight­see­ing,” ac­cord­ing to Bei­jing Youth Daily.

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