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Rules restrain hostel growth: firm

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Restrictions on license and fire code requirements are posing challenges to the establishment and expansion of hostels in Taipei, a local youth hostel owner told The China Post recently.

Josh Hsiao (蕭宗仁), the owner and manager of Homey Hostel, said he is still waiting for his license application to go through three months after filing the papers.

According to regulations, the street in front of buildings that house hotels must be at least 8 meters wide, Hsiao said. Locations meeting such a requirement are hard to come by and are usually prohibitively expensive. In order to meet all the regulations, Hsiao and his sister had spent over a year looking at more than 100 places to find the location, and spent millions of New Taiwan dollars to build the hostel.

Hsiao said he also spent a considerable amount modifying the walls in the building, which by law must be able to endure a fire for at least an hour before collapsing. Taipei's fire code also requires a hotel to have two separate fire escape stairways.

It was hard to find a place that is convenient to reach for backpackers, fits all the government's requirements, and is affordable, Hsiao said. While the laws are there to ensure businesses operate in a safe environment, youth hostel owners are usually small businesspeople, and the steep rental prices that come with a good location can prove an often insurmountable challenge, Hsiao said.

As a hostel owner, he said, he and his sister have a sense of responsibility to introduce the beauty of Taipei to travelers. A hostel is often a backpacker's first impression of Taipei, he has dedicated everything in the hostel to making it the best place to stay, Hsiao said. Nevertheless, the problems that came with applying for a hotel license in Taipei were discouraging.

Sicca Kuo (郭懿昌), manager of On My Way hostel, said running a hostel is a long-term business. Kuo said he wanted to provide a cozy and safe place for foreign travelers, but was also faced with many challenges when applying for the license.

Yeh Ming-lang (葉鳴朗), director of Taiwan Youth Hostel Association (YH,青年之家協會), agreed that it is difficult for a youth hostel to register a license in Taipei. It requires a large sum of money to rent a location that meets all related regulatory and code requirements. A hostel owner usually does not have enough capital to achieve this, he said.

Yeh, however, stressed that having a hotel license is the prerequisite to join the association.

The two major challenges faced when applying for a license are finding a suitable location, and having enough capital pay rent and to perform renovations to meet fire code requirement.

While keeping safety considerations in mind, slightly easing regulations — such as reducing the mandated width of the adjacent street from 8 meters to 4 meters — may help the development of the youth hostel sector in Taipei, Yeh said.

According to the Taipei City Tourist Industry Division (TID), current laws regulate hotel and home-stay businesses but not hostels. A home stay must be built on nonurban land, which is very hard to find in Taipei City. Therefore, a hostel has to register and obey hotel enterprise regulations, a TID official said.

Emily Hu (胡宜珍), section chief of the TID, said “it is not entirely impossible” to separate the hostel regulations from those governing hotels. The city government has made related proposals to the central government, but such amendments take a long time to become law, Hu added.

The lack of specific restrictions for youth hostels is also confusing for backpackers traveling in Taiwan.

Hilary Chu, a backpacker from Hong Kong, said she did not know if the hostel she stayed at is licensed, but that compared with her experiences in Europe, it looks more like a family flat than a hostel. There was no signboard for the hostel, so it took her longer to find, and the hostel did not accept credit card payments, which she said was strange.

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The sun shines through the living area of the Homey Hostel. The hostel's owner is still waiting for his license application to be processed, three months after filing it.(Courtesy of Homey hostel)

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