When Canadian Jacob Cooke first arrived in China four years ago, he suffered from knowing very little Chinese.
He found it difficult to perform simple tasks of daily life, such as ordering food in restaurants and using public transportation.
Zhang Jiancheng and his wife decorate their apartment, which has been selected as one of the "Olympic Family Hotels", earlier this month in Beijing. The authorities have launched a recruitment drive for 1000 such homestay families in the capital to host foreign visitors furing the Games. [China Photo Press]
"I tried looking for a homestay service, but could not find one," said the 29-year-old.
Few people seemed to even know what a homestay was then.
But foreigners who plan on coming to Beijing for the Olympics in August will face a totally different situation.
Visitors will now get more than 490,000 results just by typing "Beijing homestay" on Internet search engine Google alone, including links to websites of individuals offering accommodation during the Games and other portals that claim to help visitors get in touch with the right hosts.
One such link is www.homestaybeijing2008.com. Piet Bos from the Netherlands launched the site last year, which has since helped visitors coming for the Games reserve 15 of the 400 homes offered by the service, according to the March issue of English-language magazine Urbane.
Bos told the landlords and occupants who lease out their centrally located apartments through his website to the visitors that they could expect to make at least 700 yuan ($100) per day per guest, Urbane reported.
The Dutchman reportedly selects apartments for listing according to their proximity to Olympic, shopping and entertainment venues and restaurants, as well as the quality of their facilities.
Another website providing such services, www.olymhomtel.com, has given similar promises to the capital's landlords and residents.
"The price level is not insane," Dong Xiaoqing, a 28-year-old Chinese woman who is in charge of the website, told China Daily.
"It is the market that has decided the price. The 'Olympic' price of a serviced apartment close to major venues could be rented out at a price five to eight times its normal rate."
On her website, a 53-sq-m, one-bed serviced apartment near the National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, goes for 1,700 yuan for a day in August, about half of the monthly rent of one unit in ordinary times.
Attracted by the potential of such high profits, the two-year-old website - which does not require its landlords to speak English as the Dutchman Bos does - has attracted close to 10,000 Chinese landlords signing up for the scheme.
"We prefer serviced apartments that were built after 2001. If customers show interest in an apartment, we will send people to the door to make sure the apartment is up to mark," she said.
Dong said she was optimistic of the homestay business because of its advantage of lower costs compared with hotels.