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Hotel prices pushing travelers toward home swapping on holiday

Experts warn of pitfalls of allowing strangers to stay in private properties

By Hu Yuyan | China Daily | Updated: 2023-05-06 14:53
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As hotel prices surged during the May Day holiday from April 29 to May 3, some tourists turned to home swapping, which involves two strangers pairing up and touring each other's cities. The exchange offers free or low-cost lodging in private housing and landlords can even assist in itinerary planning. However, this unique approach to travel comes with potential risks, as experts warn that it can lead to disputes over property and privacy.

"Can I stay at your place?" asked a woman surnamed Yuan from Jiangxi province in a social media post on April 26, as she struggled to find a hotel for her upcoming trip to Nanjing, Jiangsu province, during the May Day holiday, Yangtse Evening Post reported.

Yuan explained that she was inspired by college students who had shared their travel experiences online, in which they exchanged accommodation to save money. She had began searching for a hotel a month ahead of the May Day holiday but found prices far beyond her budget.

"The hotels that usually cost about 150 yuan ($22) per night during other times went up to over 600 yuan during the holiday," she said. "So, I wanted to find locals and see if I could pay them some money to stay at their place. In the future, when they travel to Jiangxi, they can stay at my place."

Yuan's post received many responses. "Most of the netizens who left me messages were going to travel to other cities, leaving their homes empty. They offered prices of around 200 yuan. Some single women living alone were willing to share their homes with another females without charging any rent, while others suggested waiving the rent if the tenant agreed to feed their pets daily," Yuan said.

"I won't sign any agreement before checking in, as that would be too formal," she said. "But I will take pictures of the placement of items, especially valuables, in the other party's home using my phone. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and helps avoid any potential disputes."

Home swapping is a way to reduce the significant portion of travel expenses which goes toward accommodation, possibly even to zero. It is also an effective solution to avoid wasting time and energy due to unfamiliarity with the city. However, this approach also comes with potential risks.

Many netizens have voiced their concerns regarding home swapping, posing inquiries such as:"Who would be accountable for any missing or damaged items in my home?" "What if the guest installed surveillance equipment in my room?" and "What if the host unexpectedly returned in the middle of the night?"

Li Long, an associate researcher at the China Tourism Academy, acknowledged the cost-saving benefits and unique experiences that home swapping can offer, which appeal to young people. However,

Li also emphasized that theft, property damage and personal safety are common risks that must be addressed, China Media Group's Voice of China program reported.

Yu Xiao, an associate professor of law at Shanghai Normal University, recommended taking pictures of the condition of items in the homes before the exchange, and incorporating specific terms in the contract regarding compensation, news website reported.

He also pointed out that unlike hotels and well-established accommodation platforms which require real-name registration with identification cards, home swapping does not have proper control measures in place. Since exchange partners are often strangers from the internet and anonymity is common, there is a risk of hosting individuals such as drug addicts and fugitives.

Chen Mei, a lawyer with Jiangsu province-based law firm Huacai, suggested that a thorough verification process for identity, education and employment information be carried out before signing a home swapping agreement. She added that a deposit should also be paid and the legal consequences of breaching the agreement should be clearly defined, according to Yangtse Evening Post.



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