How to open a hostel or guesthouse in China

Pancakes and retrievers will set you on the right course, says Mark Andrews

April 17, 2020

Step 1: This is by far the most important step and cannot be skipped. I recommend you allocate in the region of half your overall budget for this. You equally should put most of your time and effort in finding the right one, it is after all the key to the success of your project. 

Getting the right Golden Retriever will set you up with a steady stream of foreign customers. Get the selection wrong, or worse still buying a cat, will set you up for sure failure. 

No it is not coincidence that every hostel or guesthouse you like in China has one of these dogs. After all who doesn’t like Golden Retrievers?

There is the added benefit in that they reduce your cleaning costs. Who needs a vacuum cleaner to pick up all the dropped food when you have a retriever around?

Plus guests love it when the dog runs off with their belongings. ‘Chase the underwear’ is such a good way to make new friends. 

Step 2: Learn how to make a killer banana pancake. Kidnap a foreigner to teach you if you have to. Apart from the dog this is how foreigners judge a hostel. It does not matter about the Chinese food, you can serve the laowai any old slop and they’ll love it –  after all have you ever eaten General Tso’s chicken?

Step 3: Find your property. Forget the adage location, location, location you’ve got the dog and by now you should be able to cook a banana pancake so nothing can possibly go wrong. Dingy back streets are ideal and make sure it is near a wet market or migrant worker slum – foreigners love that for the authentic “China experience.” About twenty percent of your budget should go on this stage.


Step 4: You now need to make your building look as Chinese as possible in the most kitsch manner. Scour hutongs or lilongs that are being demolished for old looking windows and screen doors. 

Furniture can be picked up in ‘antique markets’ and should give the impression that it is at least Qing Dynasty even if it was only made last week. Blow your remaining budget on this stage.

Step 5: Make sure you have plenty of cold beer ready for the grand opening. Tsingtao will do fine, just make sure it’s cold and you are selling it cheap. And if any fussy foreigner wants some imported beer remind them that Tsingtao was started by the Germans so it is as good as any European brand. 

Mark Andrews has written about everything from Japanese houses to heli hikes on New Zealand glaciers, test drives of Chinese cars to bar and restaurant reviews. He currently specialises in travel articles and reviews of Chinese cars plus articles about the Chinese auto industry.

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