May 11, 2010 / 6:32 AM / 7 years ago

Free lodging in China, but only if you speak English

<p>A general view shows buildings at the French Concession area at the centre of Shanghai January 12, 2010. REUTERS/Nir Elias</p>

SHANGHAI (Reuters Life!) - Visitors seeking to see China on a budget would do well to brush up their English language skills to take advantage of a scheme that offers free lodging in Chinese homes in exchange for English tutoring.

With the cost of one hour of English tuition costing up to 500 yuan ($73.26) -- unaffordable for the vast majority of Chinese -- a not-for-profit Chinese organization called Tourboarding launched the initiative last month.

Lodgers must speak at least two hours of English a day in return for their keep while their Chinese hosts can learn for free from a resident live-in English teacher.

“In the past 30 days, 5,000 Chinese families have signed up,” said Ken Chen, 38, one of the founding members for Tourboarding.

Chen said the aim of the company, which is run online (www.tourboarding.com/), is not to make money but to provide opportunity for the millions of Chinese keen to learn English.

Tourboarding hopes to tap into foreign demand for cheap accommodation in China, particularly in Shanghai, as hotel prices have soared since the start of the World Expo in May.

“Travel industry hates us, people love us,” is the motto on its website, which prides itself on offering travelers airport pick-up and drop off, free accommodation with a family and two meals a day.

Travelers can choose to exchange their language for free accommodation, tour guiding or even Chinese cooking lessons.

Yang Yang, 16, a female student in Shanghai advertises her home on the Tourboarding website to prospective travelers: “The house is next to a lake, green is good. We can offer single rooms for you to live. My parents want me to invite a woman.”

Chen said Yang is just one example of a rising number of Chinese opening their homes to foreigners in the hope of improving their English.

“We accept travelers from all over the world. In the future we will copy this model to imitate in new, booming countries such as Russia, Brazil and Vietnam,” said Chen.

Chen who quit his job at Nike Sports China, joined forces with Nuno Zhang, 28, an ex-Google employee to create the Tourboarding concept. The company started up in April.

He added that the website would rely on donations from travelers until volume traffic increases.

“In the future we will bring in advertising to make the service sustainable but we will not charge hosts at all as they are from a developing country,” Chen added.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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