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Vacation home swaps are yet to prove a hit in China

DESPITE interest from some locals, the concept of house swapping has yet to prove popular in China.

"Our Website has not registered a single successful swap," said the manager of a Chinese home-exchange site, surnamed Wu. "It's hard to promote the concept in China because people don't feel comfortable letting strangers take over their house for a few weeks."

House swapping is popular in Europe as a way for travelers to cut costs. Under the system, two homeowners meet, often online at a house-swapping agent's site, and agree to swap homes free of charge for the duration of a vacation.

Inspired by the 2006 movie "The Holiday," which depicts two women's experiences of home swapping, Wu launched, aiming to popularize the system in China.

"I have put 200,000 yuan (US$29,267) every year into the Website, hoping to charge a fee as an agent. I don't charge users for putting information about their homes online, and it's free to make enquiries, but no one has ever succeeded in completing a house swap using my site, as far as I know."

Home Link international, a Brussels-based home-swapping company, also says China's a tough market.

"We have only a dozen or so clients in China and a large portion of them are foreigners," said Zhang Fanwei, a manager at the company.

"To ensure the security of our clients, we require our members to present their IDs when they register, though, most Chinese members still refuse to exchange with each other," said Zhang.

Some local students have reported more success, switching dorms with students in other parts of China.

"I exchanged my dormitory last summer with a girl in Beijing," said Cathy, a local student. "It was a lovely dorm and her roommates were adorable, too, not to mention the money I saved on hotels."

But Cathy didn't use one of the home-swapping Websites.

"I met the girl on the Internet and found that we both loved traveling and wanted to visit each other's cities," she said. "We didn't exchange our dorms until a year after we met online."

So far, in China at least, house exchanges are mainly between friends and relatives.

"I will try it if there's a chance but I will first consider swapping with relatives and friends," said a local student surnamed Zhang.

Others viewed the idea with suspicion. They consider home swapping as sacrificing privacy and security.

"I would not let strangers into my house unless they were really good friends," a local banker surnamed Zhu said.


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