Scam prompts health check for tourists' TCM visits

08:37, June 14, 2011      

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Customers flock into Nancheng Tianhui Tongrentang drugstore in Changping district in May. Tongrentang was found to have tricked foreign tourists into buying overpriced medicines. (Mao Weihao / China Daily)

The city's tourism department has ordered a six-month overhaul of the one-day tour business after it was revealed some retail stores were tricking foreign tourists into buying unnecessary and overpriced traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

The city authorities raided the Nancheng Tianhui medicine store, after a report by Xinhua News Agency on June 8 revealed the franchised outlet of Tongrentang Co Ltd, the largest TCM producer in China, diagnosed foreign tourists brought in by tour guides and charged them exorbitant prices for medicine.

Gao Hongyi, the legal representative of the store, admitted on Monday that the store had been selling medicines produced by the Hanci Chinese Medicine Hospital under the name of Tongrentang, which is against the law.

Tongrentang said in a statement on Sunday that it apologized to consumers and the public for loopholes in management.

But it said the expensive medicine was not sold by Tongrentang but by Beijing Hanci Chinese Medicine Hospital, which is located inside the Tongrentang outlet.

However, Tongrentang's stamp was on the invoice of the medicine sold by the hospital.

In response to the scandal, many people have called for harsher punishments against unregulated tourism agencies and stricter rules on tourism featuring TCM.

Zhang Ruigang, director of the Tourism Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that with the boom in tourism featuring TCM, the tourism sector and the health and pharmaceutical sector should jointly establish more efficient supervision and stricter rules to regulate the market.

A US tourist was one of the first to file a complaint.

He booked a one-day tour with Xiandai Tourism Agency, a subsidiary of China Travel Service, at Wangfujing Grand Hotel in downtown Beijing on May 14. But instead of going to the tomb of Emperor Yongle and the Great Wall as scheduled, the tourist group was taken to the Tongrentang Nanchengtianhui drugstore in Changping district.

At the drugstore, the tourist was introduced to a "professor" in a doctor's outfit. After feeling the tourist's pulse the so-called professor informed the tourist that his kidney was quite weak and prescribed him some medicine, which cost 780 yuan ($120).

"I found that most tourists were diagnosed with similar problems. The 'professor' said we all had something wrong with our kidney," the tourist said.

Foreigners' complaints often fall on deaf ears because of language barriers and some tourism agencies and hotels are involved in the over-charging scams with the stores.

"I felt I was lied to at the drugstore. They were lying to the tourists about the medicine," said Alex Cleveland, a tourist from Sweden who was in the same group, during an interview with Jiangxi Television.

"I was even asked to pay for a tip for a cab when traveling around. I know there's no need to tip taxi drivers in Beijing," he told China Daily.

Source: China Daily - Xinhua
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