China's overwhelmed Forbidden City plans to cap number of visitors to 80,000 a day

China's overwhelmed Forbidden City plans to cap number of visitors to 80,000 a day

BEIJING - The Palace Museum in Beijing, better know as the Forbidden City, unveiled a plan on Tuesday to control the number of visitors after dealing with overwhelming crowds for years.

According to Shan Jixiang, director of the museum, the draft plan sets an upper limit for daily visitors at 80,000. The proposal is awaiting approval from various authorities that have jurisdiction.

"It's a must, because our museum is too crowded during peak season," Shan said. "We have to be responsible for visitors' safety."

No specific date to kick off the new policy was announced, but Shan said it could begin as early as summer. He said there was some urgency to the plan in light of the deadly human stampede on Shanghai's Bund on New Year's Eve. The sheer number of visitors, along with inadequate crowd control measures, were at the root of the tragedy, he said.

The seat of power and main residence of Ming and Qing dynasty emperors until 1924, the Forbidden City was converted into a museum in 1925 and is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. More than 15 million people visited the museum last year, more than any other museum in the world. Second on the list is the Louvre in Paris, which saw 9.2 million visitors.

On 42 days last year, more than 80,000 people poured into the Forbidden City, which covers an area of 1.12 square kilometers at the centre of Beijing. On two days, the palace received more than 140,000 visitors.

"Many methods have been tried to control the numbers, such as closing the museum on Mondays, but the results were not as good as we wanted," Shan said.

He acknowledged expecting some difficulties in putting the new policy into practice, especially if it means closing the doors on eager visitors who have travelled from far away to see the palace.

May Day, National Day and summer break are the three major peaks, he said. However, the number of visitors during the winter is fewer than he would like. Only 29,000 people visited the museum daily on average during low season last year from Nov 1 to Mar 31.

"We need to attract more visitors in winter to narrow the gap between peak and low season," Shan said.

The museum will reduce ticket prices to 20 yuan (S$4.32) on its website during the winter, half the current low-season entry price of 40 yuan per person. Admission costs 60 yuan the rest of the year.

"We will guide more people to buy tickets online and improve our facilities," he said.

Also on Tuesday, Shan announced that microphones with electronic amplifiers will be forbidden inside the museum starting on April 1 to give visitors a better experience. Commercial tour guides often rely on the amplifiers to be heard.

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