Too-cheap tours spark abuses, watchdog says

Too-cheap tours spark abuses, watchdog says

Tourists' don't like being forced to shop after going on inexpensive tours, the top tourism watchdog said about the No 1 complaint it received last month.

The China National Tourism Administration was prompted by one such case to open a section on its website to collect consumers' complaints in an effort to help the industry get back on track.

By May 31, it had received 154 complaints it considered valid. The highest percentage, 34 per cent, related to inexpensive tours with forced shopping.

23 per cent involved travel agencies that broke their contract by changing plans; 13 per cent were about poor upkeep at scenic spots; and 6 per cent related to online trip service providers.

Most of the complaints involved popular tourism destinations, such as Beijing and Shanghai, along with Yunnan, Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces.

Peng Zhikai, head of the administration's supervision and management division, said the unreasonably cheap trips remain a concern.

"Since May, we have sent nine inspection teams to investigate the too-inexpensive trips in different provinces, and we found three serious and typical cases," said Peng. "In Zhangjiajie, Hunan province, a tour guide confronted tourists with a kitchen knife because some of them didn't want to spend more. The tour guide's license was revoked.

"We intend to give information on more of these cases to the media so that tourists can see the harm caused by these low-price trips with hidden traps," Peng said. "We will also have lists of good-quality tourism products to give tourists guidance."

Zhang Guangrui, honorary director of the Tourism Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that more complaints from tourists are good for the market.

"Tourists now care more about their rights, and complaints to tourism authorities will help governments and the industry to improve service."

Zhang said tour guides are not solely at fault in many cases of suspected violations of tourists' rights.

"In China, tour guides cannot work on their own; they have to work for travel agencies. This brings about a dilemma. Travel agencies want to attract more tourists with low prices, and tour guides don't get paid enough if travel agencies don't make enough profit," Zhang said. "So the guides have to rely on commissions, and that is the root of the problem."

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