Sun, Aug 09, 2015 - Page 3 News List

Hostel issue may see answer with Tainan zone test

By Huang Wen-huang and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

People walk along a street lined with old houses in Tainan on Monday.

Photo: Huang Wen-huang, Taipei Times

Legal tussles between the Tainan City Government’s Tourism Bureau and the Ministry of Transportation and Communications might soon be resolved after the ministry agreed to start a trial demonstration zone where old residential buildings are turned into hostels, the municipal government said.

Bureau Director Wang Shih-ssu (王時思) said the rich history of the municipality has drawn many foreign tourists to the city.

With “downshifting” becoming a trend — people spurning the quick pace of modern urban living — many old houses in the municipality have been renovated into coffee shops, bookstores or hostels, Wang said.

However, the practice has caused an overload, with Anping District (安平) alone now home to about 500 hostels, Wang said, adding that the practice also directly contravenes the Regulations for the Management of Home Stay Facilities (民宿管理辦法).

According to the regulations, hostels must be set up in a “non-urban environment,” which excludes the entire city area, Wang said, adding that all of the converted hostels, if they stay in business, would need to apply for hotel permits.

However, hotel permits carry stricter regulations, Wang said, adding that a requirement to have “at least a 9m-wide road at [a hotel’s] front door” would exclude most operations, which tend to be hidden in the municipality’s warren of lanes and alleys.

Wang said that with the rapid increase of hostels that do not have permits in the municipality over the years, safety has also become an issue, adding that many medium-sized hotels, whose business has been impacted, have campaigned for the city government to apply the law and shut down the hostels.

The legal gray area has also put hostel owners between a rock and a hard place, as they were forerunners to the municipality’s tourism boom, but are now facing fines of at least NT$60,000 if they are found to be operating without a license.

“No one wants to go against the law, but there must be regulations to adhere to in the first place,” owners said, adding that while some wanted to step up safety for their businesses and ask the municipal fire department to inspect their facilities, they were afraid of being fined if they did so.

As early as November 2013, the municipal government applied to the ministry in the hope that designating tourism zones would help resolve the legal issues, Wang said, adding that while the ministry had shown tentative approval, a final decision was still dependent on a general inspection of the area.

Changhua County’s Lukang Township (鹿港) previously made similar requests, but they were not approved by the central government, Wang said, adding that if Tainan City’s request is approved, it would become the first ministry-approved exclusive tourism zone.

More than 200 buildings could be included in the zone, but buildings must be above a certain age, have less than five rooms and not be a collective residential building, Wang said.

The inclusion of buildings in the trial zone would not be “on-the-spot” approval for the building to become a hostel, Wang said, adding that there was no need to fight over applying for inclusion in the zone.

The municipal government plans tailor regulations to help manage the zone and seek to give the industry the greatest amount of liberty possible within the confines of existing regulations, Wang said.

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