“There is an endless flow of tourists entering the building which adds weight and pressure to the lifts. Strangers can also get easy access to the building, making the residents feel insecure,” she says.
She says the problem is worse in older buildings where visitor registration is not required. When any incidents happen, no one can be held to account because the visitors have already left and the host never shows up.
Lee has referred suspected cases of unlicensed B&Bs to the Home Affairs Department, but she complains the response has been unsatisfactory. Despite the information provided by residents, such as the peak times for tourists to check-in, there has not been a single prosecution.
Apart from concerns that unlicensed B&Bs might disturb neighbours, there is also the question of safety. But Mr Lo, who works for Hong Kong Lodge, a local online platform to search for B&Bs, takes a different view. Lo, who did not want to give his full name, argues that the flats used for B&Bs are mainly located in residential premises which are already in good condition.
“A paradox exists,” says Lo, “If a B&B without the equipment [required under the licensing requirements for guesthouses] is said to be dangerous to live in, then all the housing units in Hong Kong face the same danger.”
He says that with daily rental rates in the range of HK$400 – $800, B&Bs offer visitors a reasonable and decent alternative type of accommodation to hotels. This has led to a surge in demand for B&Bs in Hong Kong, especially during the peak seasons for visitors. During Varsity’s 45-minute phone interview with Lo, he received 20 enquiries asking about B&B vacancies as the Mid-autumn Festival and the National Day Golden Week holiday were approaching.
Joe’s guests, the American visitors Rachel Patterson and Jeff Bergemann, who chose to stay at Joe’s B&B in the New Territories say the high prices of hotels and hostels in Hong Kong made it very hard for them to find suitable accommodation.
They were on a tight budget, so they considered the guesthouses in Chungking Mansions but they were worried about the notoriety of the location. So when they found Joe’s place on Airbnb, with an affordable rent of $300 per night, they decided to book it straight away.
As for Veronica Chan of Espace Elastique in Tai O, she hopes there can be a more flexible registration system or even better, a licence specifically for B&Bs. Chan believes B&B accommodation offers a unique experience and there is a need for what they offer. “Travelling is not only about pure enjoyment,” she says. “It is who you meet and the stories you come across that matter.”