Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Gouging Tourists in China

For those who haven't travelled to China yet, you might presume the living expenses there would be lower and cheaper, no matter you travel to the cities, the small towns or the villages in China. Everything is relatively expensive in China and even more expensive than traveling to some developed countries in Asia region like, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore.

When I visited some famous attraction sites like the Forbidden Palace, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven etc. in Beijing, China last year, I was quite surprised that the minimum entrance ticket has increased to at least 60 yuan (US$10) per person for every attraction. According to NetEase, some people might think that when the operators impose high entrance fee, it would create a good mechanism in order to reduce the crowds of visitors and eventually, to preserve the attraction sites in good condition. Due to the exclusiveness and scarcity of tourism resources, even though the ticket prices were raised from 50 yuan to 500 yuan, a visitor would have the “now-or-never” mentality and suck it up. Look at the National Day Holiday in 2011 (from October 1 to 7). Forbidden City received 130,000 visitors per day, the Great Wall, 64,500, and Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, 50,000. High Prices have clearly failed to serve as a swarm of visitors from visiting the attractions. No matter how much I pay the entrance tickets to attraction sites in China, nothing is worth my money spent as many of the sites aren't properly maintained. It's really upsetting seeing some of the historical sites such as the walls and ceilings at Forbidden Palace have begun to ruin down. It is even pathetic seeing most of the animals aren't properly taken care in clean and spacious environment other than, smelling urine everywhere at Beijing Zoo.

Apart from the rising of the entrance tickets to attraction sites, the living expenses such as property and food are also on the rise too. When I was in Beijing, I did some research about the cost of household products. To my surprise, a small cup of hot coffee at a restaurant or Starbucks costs about 35yuan (US$6). Majority of the locals can't afford to drink coffee. They take hot soya milk or hot Chinese tea for their breakfast. Their earning wages are too low to be able to survive in China. A basic liquid washing detergent of 3litre costs up to 70yuan (US$11). Since the liquid washing detergent is extremely expensive, I wonder how many households use washing machines? Do they still washing their clothing with their hands? I don't have any idea... For a typical fresh degree graduate in China, she/he earns 2000yuan-3000yuan (US$300-US$400) per month where most of the portion of her/his salary goes into paying for the room rental. The rental for a typical small room of 20sqm in Beijing city costs from 2000yuan (US$334) per month onward. Majority of the locals can't afford to dine at restaurants. Those who dine in restaurants are normally tourists or wealthy Chinese people. I remembered I had to pay at least 180yuan (US$30) for 3 simple dishes with rice for 2 servings in a Chinese restaurant in Beijing city or Shanghai. If you dine at Western or other Asian restaurants then, you will expect to pay higher bills. I find it very amusing in China... anything is related to overseas food and products such as Western food and products, they are more expensive than the locals' products. Even the fast food such as KFC, you need to spend from 30yuan (US$5) for a set meal per person. The size of the KFC fried chicken is even smaller than what I had in Malaysia. No matter how expensive is the fast food meal or how frequent the fast food operators keep rising the prices, the Chinese people still support the fast food industry. All the Western and imported branded goods are extremely more expensive than other similar branded stores outside China. I was told that the imported Western and branded goods to China, are being taxed up to 40% thus, many of Chinese people take the opportunities to shop for branded goods when they travel to Hong Kong and overseas countries. This is a reason why you find long queues which are occupied by Chinese tourists at branded stores in overseas countries.

The Economist magazine introduced  the Big Mac index in the last century based on the theory of purchasing-power parity to compare entrance fees at some famous tourist attractions in China and overseas countries (Source: http://img2.cache.netease.com/cnews/2012/1/29/201201291858036f149.png)

A list of ticket prices for tourist attractions in China in the order from the highest to the lowest from Ministry of Tofu
Jiuzhai Valley, Sichuan province 310/160 yuan (Tourist season/dull season)
Wuyi Mountains, Fujian province 250 yuan (for three days)
Mount Hua, Shaanxi province 100/50 yuan (Tourist season/dull season)
Badaling section of the Great Wall, Beijing 45/40 yuan (Tourist season/dull season)

Chinese tourists are gouged (by the Chinese)


Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images
Chinese tourists pose for photos in front of a portrait of the late Chairman Mao Zedong  at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on Feb. 27, 2012. (source: MSNBC)

BEIJING – It can be exorbitantly expensive to travel in China – and Chinese tourists are fed-up.

For instance, Sanya, a big resort city on China’s southern tropical island province of Hainan, is usually a dream destination for winter holiday makers. 

But it is becoming a target of netizens complaining about being ruthlessly ripped off there. One irate tourist recently complained on Weibo, China’s popular Twitter-like microblogging site, that he paid almost $635 dollars for a meal of three dishes including one fish.

Tourists everywhere could complain about getting gouged. But it seems that Chinese tourists truly are justified in their gripes.

For example, a recent study published by Netease.com, one of China’s biggest Web portals, borrowed the concept of the Big Mac index from the Economist to compare the prices of tourist attractions in both China and overseas.

The Economist’s Big Mac index is based on the “theory of purchasing-power parity.” 

They use the cost of a Big Mac in the U.S. as a benchmark and compare it to the local cost of a Big Mac to create a comparison between the currencies.

The Netease.com article borrowed the Big Mac index idea to compare entrance fees charged at Chinese tourist attractions versus those overseas.
The statistics are eye-opening. 

Andy Wong / AP
Tourists visit Tiananmen Gate on China's National Day in Beijing on Oct. 1, 2011 (Source: MSNBC)

For example, the cost of admission to Jiuzhaigou National Park in southwest China, a U.N. biosphere reserve famous for its shimmering turquoise lakes and snow-crusted mountain peaks, costs 220 Yuan ($35) to get in, or, 14.3 Big Macs.

In contrast, Yellowstone National Park costs an adult entering by foot or bike $12 dollars, the equivalent of 2.7 Big Macs. (It costs $25 dollars for one vehicle, including all passengers).

In Paris, the Louvre Museum costs 2.9 Big Macs, while a ticket to China’s Palace Museum inside the Forbidden City in Beijing is as much as 3.9 Big Macs.

The well-known Great Wall just outside Beijing also looks expensive – its cost is 2.9 Big Macs, compared to the Taj Mahal, which is a quarter of one Big Mac (for Indian tourists; foreigners are charged more).

No regulation
“There’s no government supervision of ticket prices,” said Wu Jingmin, a former tour guide who agitated the tourism industry in 2006 by publishing his book “How Can I Not Rip You Off? – A Tour Guide’s Monologue.” In the book, Wu exposed how the industry scams tourists, from tour agencies to restaurants and even local governments.

Besides high admission fees in China, travelers also often have to pay additional costs at tourist sites for such items as shuttle buses or cable cars.

At Changbaishan, the sacred mountain on the border of China and North Korea, a tourist must buy three different tickets at $16 a piece if they wish to take in the view from its three different peaks, and that doesn’t include the extra $14 for the shuttle bus. 

Chinese tourists also normally travel during one of the three one-week-long national holidays. Even if that means going to Beijing’s Forbidden City with 130,000 more visitors than on a usual day, or slowly pushing their way forward on the Great Wall when it is as packed as a rush hour subway.

“The regulations for ticket prices are in complete disorder,” Wu, the former tour guide, told NBC News in a phone interview. “Local price regulators usually say ‘yes’ to tourist attractions, no matter what they want to charge. 

Then the tourist-trap managers give a big discount to tour agencies, who make the money from selling very expensive tickets to tourists.” 

Wu complained that little is being done to remedy the situation. 

“The natural resources belong to the people. They just build a wall around it and then charge a high ticket price to the people, who don’t really have a choice. This industry’s future is worrying,” added Wu. 

He’s says he’s planning to create his own tour packages to counter the notorious prices in Sanya

(Source: http://behindthewall.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/04/16/11231025-chinese-tourists-are-gouged-by-the-chinese?lite)


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