Administration trying to crack down on travel abuses

10:43, March 07, 2011      

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Lam Yue-yung, a tour guide involved in a conflict with mainland tourists, leaves a Hong Kong court on Feb 7, 2011. The tour guide and two Chinese mainland tourists fought in the street and were fined HK$ 1,000 each by the court for their inappropriate behavior in public places. Edmond Tang / China Daily

The National Tourism Administration has ordered tourism-administrative departments at all levels to redouble their efforts to rein in the practice of "forced shopping" and other abuses.

The announcement came as part of a notice posted on the tourism administration's official website. It followed in the wake of a slew of disputes between mainland tourists and tour guides in Hong Kong and Macao during the past Spring Festival holiday.

The administration said it will pay particular attention to cheap tour packages that are priced just low enough to let a travel agency break even or sometimes even lower. The administration plans to publicize the names of, and otherwise punish, travel agencies found to be forcing tourists to shop or to be engaging in similar abusive practices.

Guides on cheap tour packages often try to make profits by taking tourists to shops that return a percentage of their sales revenue to the agency. Some agencies go so far as to set up their own shops.

The high-pressure sales methods sometimes used in such places, often called "forced shopping", have led to disputes between tourists and tour guides.

The tourism administration said it will cooperate with other administrators to regulate tourism advertisements and curtail the appearance of ads that attempt to lure in tourists with fraudulent and unreasonably cheap products.

It will also try to help tourists recognize the dangers of such offers, while strengthening its efforts to supervise tourism contracts and punish acts deemed to be in violation of such documents.

The top tourism regulator is also looking to severely punish agencies that lend, rent or transfer their tourism-operation licenses to illegal organizations.

A blacklist system will be used in the hope of flushing violators out of the industry, the administration said.

Wang Hai, a consultant with the State-owned BTG International Travel and Tours Group, said some private and small agencies often try to attract customers by offering lower-than-market-price tour packages and then try to force the tourists, once on the trips, to buy things in local shops.

"Such abuses happen to both inbound and outbound travelers," he said.

He said many customers no doubt find it tempting to sign up for the cheapest possible travel packages. Before doing so, they should ask travel agencies if such trips entail compulsory shopping or trips to specific shops. Learning the answers will help them make wise decisions, he said.

Wang said he welcomes the National Tourism Administration's attempt at curtailing such behaviors and said a strong stance against abuse will lead to fairer competition in the industry.

Li Yinping, a retired resident in Beijing, said she was forced to shop in a jade store when she traveled to Southwest China's Yunnan province in 2010.

"I joined a tour organized by a small agency," she said. "The price was 500 yuan ($76) less than what was offered by other agencies. But I did not know we would go to a jade store."

She said that others on the trip ended up buying jade and that she dislikes being forced to shop. Her sole purpose in traveling, she said, is to sightsee.

"I wish travel agencies would provide higher quality services," she said. "If they do, it doesn't matter if they charge fairly high prices."

Li Xinjian, a tourism expert with the Beijing International Studies University, said the situation might also be improved by reforming the way in which many tour guides are paid.

At many small agencies, the income of tour guides is closely related with the money that they "force" tourists to spend in shops,
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By Chen Xin, China Daily
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