Xiamen Bans Homestays Because of BRICS Summit, Locals Say
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2017-07-07 03:05:38

Residents of the most popular tourist district in Xiamen, a coastal city in eastern China, are no longer allowed to rent out accommodation to visitors, according to a new guideline published Monday by the local government.

The port city’s Siming District has ordered any residents offering unlicensed short-term vacation rentals — known as minsu in Chinese — to close their doors to guests. The district is a well-known tourist destination and houses more than half of Xiamen’s minsu, according to data provided by the city’s tourism bureau.

“The government is now taking action to standardize minsu,” Lai Jianlong, secretary-general of the minsu association of Xiamen’s Haicang District, told Sixth Tone. “Previously, the minsu units in Xiamen existed in a gray area without a government document to regulate them.”

Siming’s ban follows a citywide measure issued in May calling on the district government to implement an even stricter regulation. Meanwhile, Siming District’s Gulangyu, an island popular with tourists that applied for UNESCO World Heritage status this year, follows its own policy, which it enacted in December 2015.

Xiamen’s scenic views, balmy weather, and rich history attract tens of millions of visitors each year, and many residents and entrepreneurs have started to offer homestays, catching on to the trend of increasingly popular apps like Airbnb and its Chinese competitors. Lai said the new guideline is meant to regulate these unregistered rental facilities, which authorities claim raise safety and security concerns.

But locals point to the upcoming BRICS Summit as the reason behind the tightening regulations. In September, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa will meet for the second time on Chinese soil — with much of that time spent in Siming District.

Business owners and residents told Sixth Tone that authorities have been particularly cautious, as the city prepares to play host to the visiting world leaders. Lai of the Haicang minsu association said security has been tightened in the city, with more traffic stops, more vehicles on patrol, and more oversight of nonlocals in order to “guarantee the overall safety” of the summit.

“It is likely that people posing a potential risk would stay at unregistered facilities,” Lai said. “To ensure safety, strict management should be exerted.”

While many minsu owners in Siming District agree, they are also worried about business. Some told Sixth Tone that their businesses have been ordered not to take online reservations until further notice. And some minsu owners have taken to social media to announce that they have been ordered to suspend their operations until the end of the summit.

But Fu Jinning, an officer at the Xiamen Municipal Tourism Development Commission, dismissed the locals’ claims and told Sixth Tone that the new rule has nothing to do with the BRICS meeting. Instead, she said it is intended to better monitor and regulate minsu.

“The regulation is related to a joint review from the planning, environmental protection, and public security departments,” Fu said. “And each district may make more specific regulations based on the city government’s guideline.”

However, business owners are already starting to see the economic impact. “There has been a great reduction in customers,” said minsu owner Zhuo, who asked to be identified only by her surname. “We will try to get back on our feet after BRICS.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A view of private apartments available for rent as short-term accommodation in Xiamen, Fujian province, Sept. 25, 2015. VCG)