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June 18, 2010

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The home run that didn't occur

MANY Shanghai families have opened their homes - and hearts - to World Expo visitors since the big event opened in May.

Alas, because of red tape, there have been few takers for the budget family accommodation on offer.

The famous line from American movie "Cool Hand Like" has never rung truer: "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

The problem in Shanghai is that foreigners and out-of-towners alike are contacting tourism agencies to inquire about family stays but the message is not being passed down to the community level.

Linfen neighborhood in Zhabei District is the pilot community for the host-family project but so far only a small number of tourism representatives has visited the community - and all too briefly at that.

"We've been preparing since the second half of last year but no one has come to stay," said resident Wu Guoxiang, 58. "The only visitors were some tourism delegations and they sat down for just a while and then left."

Neighborhood committee officials said they could not receive tourists until official paperwork was done.

"If authorities don't give a quick reply, visitors will turn to hotels," said Jin Tao, an official with the Linfen neighborhood committee.

The Shanghai Tourism Administration yesterday offered no comment on the issue.

Under administration rules, tourists are not allowed to book directly with host families but must go through travel agencies. And herein lies part of the problem.

Sometimes visitors have to agree upon sightseeing and community activities organized by the agencies as part of the home-stay package.

Once that becomes apparent many potential boarders immediately look elsewhere.

The administration named almost 190 host families in the downtown area in late April, about a third of whom providing accommodation.

Staying at host families costs about 200 yuan (US$29.30) a night. Families don't make a profit from the project, only receiving break-square subsidies. All they need now is for someone to turn up.


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