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Locals protest over prices in Fenghuang ancient town

By Liu Linlin (Global Times)

13:29, April 12, 2013

Beautiful scenery of Fenghuang, an ancient town in central China's Hunan province, October 20, 2007. (Xinhua)

>> Fenghuang ancient town now charging for entry

Hundreds of locals and private business owners Thursday morning protested against the implementation of single-ticket entry to the "ancient town" of Fenghuang, a popular tourist site known for its well-preserved buildings, in Fenghuang county of Central China's Hunan Province.

Shops in the town were closed in the morning as locals and business owners gathered at a major pier in the area.

"I arrived at the pier at around 12 pm in the morning and there were around 400 people standing there. Our business thrived from individual tourists but after the new fee-charging system, we experienced a sharp decrease in the number of tourists," Yang Zhi, a witness to the protests and a private hotel owner in Fenghuang, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Yang said the protest started at around 11 am and an hour later, police officers and special police forces were sent to the scene to disperse the crowd. He said he witnessed police threatening tourists taking pictures and that the police beat up people reluctant to leave.

The county's press office claimed that the reason for the strike was that some illegal tourist guides asked favors from shop owners to protest against their loss of profits. Order in the town had been restored by Thursday afternoon.

According to a statement from the county government, some people clashed with police officers who were there to maintain order, and these people were taken away by police.

The town recently started to charge each tourist 148 yuan ($23.89) to enter the town. The former pricing system let tourists enter the town for free but charged to visit individual sites. An all-round ticket for all 10 sites was also available for 148 yuan.

Ye Wenzhi, president of Unitenix, a travel corporation that manages the tourism in Fenghuang, said that the local government will take 40 percent of the ticket-selling income under the new system, the Xiaoxiang Morning Herald reported Thursday.

But the new pricing system has drawn questions about the value of commercializing the town, which could sabotage the original flavor that attracted tourists.

"There have been public hearings on the ticket price for years. We also held a press conference on Hunan provincial television station in March. But the protest means we need to go further," a staff member surnamed Long at the county tourism bureau's press office told the Global Times.

"We didn't know the price was going to change till we saw the information online. Locals' voices were not well received by authorities. We are not happy that the local government abruptly cut off all of our revenue," Yang said.

Yang said there are 40 hotels relying on individual tourists on Beibian Street, where his own hotel is located. But since the new pricing system was introduced, his hotel has often not been full until the small hours of the morning.

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