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Travel market shouldn't just be about pockets

By Kang Bing | China Daily | Updated: 2023-11-14 07:57
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Passengers are seen at Xuzhoudong Railway Station in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province, Aug 1, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]

Visiting scenic spots and heritage sites during holidays has become part of life for Chinese people who now have extra money to spare apart from keeping themselves warm and full. Yet, a lot more needs to be done by tourist administrators and relevant departments to further regulate the market and prevent tourists from falling into traps designed by some evil-minded businesses.

Statistics provided by the authorities show that in the first half of this year, Chinese people made nearly 2.4 billion domestic trips, averaging about 400 million visits per month. Though the latest figures are not available, we know that during the eight-day National Day/Mid Autumn holiday alone, Chinese people made 826 million such trips. We can safely expect the figure to reach 4 billion before the year ends.

However, a hide-and-seek game between buyers and sellers starts long before a tourist actually packs his/her bags for a trip.

Two weeks before the National Day holiday this year, a friend of mine told me that he had locked two seats with a travel group headed for Thailand on a week-long visit. "I got the last two seats at a buy one, get one free deal, paying only 1,900 yuan ($261.77)," he told me proudly.

The low price caught my attention. Anyone with a sense of market price would know that it was too low to take care of airfare and accommodation, not to mention other expenses that can come up on such trips. I suggested that he ask for a copy of the contract. The contract clearly said that more than 10 hours would be arranged for shopping at different locations, that each tourist must bring with him/her no less than 5,000 yuan in cash and while the travel agency would not force tourists to shop, if the local guides do so, it was not their responsibility.

Seeing that, my friend developed cold feet and wasted no time in canceling the deal, realizing that it was a trap he was walking into.

Such traps have been frequently reported in the past too. Tourists are first lured to join group tours, both domestic and overseas, at unimaginably low prices, and then the travel agents make money by forcing the tourists to buy goods at designated shops that offer the agents handsome commissions.

There have been many reports about disputes arising when tour guides force tourists to splurge on things they have no wish to buy. In many cases, tourists who refuse to buy these things are insulted, threatened, driven out of tourist buses or even confined to a room illegally. Although, in most cases, the tourists come out unscathed once they appeal to the local travel and market administrators, their holiday is totally ruined.

Managers of tourist attractions also play tricks with tourists. Given that entrance fees to tourist spots are decided by government departments, they cannot jack up the fee, but they work around it by setting up entry to scenic spots some distance away — sometimes even 10 kilometers away.

From there the tourists have no choice than to take shuttle buses provided by the tour administrators. The fare the administrators charge for just a seven-minute shuttle ride is often the same as that for a high-speed train ride from Beijing to Tianjin. And when the tourists finally reach the tourist spot, they find that the best part of it — say a grotto or a painting — is inaccessible unless one coughs up extra, often as high as 1,000 yuan, for just a glance. Of course, all this is done in the name of "relics' protection".

We don't expect the travel agents or managers of tourist sites to give up their moneymaking tricks. It would be difficult for even their direct supervisors in the government to straighten things out as they might know the difficulties the enterprises are going through.

However, who looks after the interests of us tourists then? We shouldn't be totally on our own. Apart from the exhaustion caused by trips, we tourists now also have to keep an eye on our pockets.

The author is former deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily.

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