China / Society

China's low-cost tours come with hidden traps

(Xinhua) Updated: 2015-11-05 17:16

XINING - Chinese tourists are learning that travel deals that sound too good to be true probably come with big risks and strings attached.

Offers such as five-day tours to Hong Kong and Macao for 599 yuan ($95) or one-day 100-yuan tours to China's southwestern city of Chengdu have lured many tourists. But these budget tours have earned a reputation for trickery and forced spending following recent scandals.

Lei Min expected her tour to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, during October's National Day holiday to be pleasant, but it turned into a nightmare she will never forget.

Lei, a 29-year-old white-collar worker from Northwest China's Shaanxi province, was forced into a duty-free shop in Chengdu's Pixian county, along with other tourists on the one-day tour.

"They threatened not to let us go unless we bought the jewels they recommended, which cost thousands of yuan," Lei said in a report carried by Shaanxi's local Huashang Newspaper this week.

Lei was finally able to leave when one of the tourists unwillingly spent more than 3,000 yuan on jewels some 40 minutes later, according to the newspaper.

The story circulated on Chinese social media, with netizens lambasting the budget tours for deceiving tourists.

"I would rather get lost in a city than join a guided low-cost tour," wrote a netizen on microblog Sina Weibo.

"How do you expect a shopping-free tour at such a low price?" said another. "Don't fall into cheap traps again!"

China has seen a slew of high-profile scandals involving cheap tours. Last month, a Chinese mainland tourist died in Hong Kong after he was allegedly beaten unconscious by a gang of four men while mediating a shopping dispute. The man was reportedly on a budget group tour.


Low-cost group tours are a growing strain on tourist experience in the country, according to a Tuesday report jointly issued by tourism website, news app Toutiao and the Bank of China. The report was compiled based on information from travel service searches, question and answer sessions between tourists and agencies, and comments from 600 million Chinese tourists over the past two years.

But even though scandals abound surrounding the low-cost tours, they so far have not dampened their popularity.

Dong Wei, president of Kangwei International Travel Agency in Qinghai province, said the popularity of budget tours is tied to the attitudes of the tourists themselves.

"Many tourists already know that tours cannot be as cheap as they are priced in the slick ads, but they just want to gamble their luck on marketing gimmicks," Dong said. "After all, such cheap offers are really hard to resist."

Fierce competition in the tourism market has also forced some travel agencies to market budget tours to win more customers, contributing to the growth of low-cost tours, Dong added.

"Sometimes the cheap tours are given as gifts when you buy houses or cars, or when you win a lottery," Weibo user "Nvrenhuarenshengmeng" said. "You think you got a good deal, but then when you go on tour, there's forced shopping, insults or even threats."

In an effort to guide the development of the tourism industry, the National Tourism Administration issued a guideline to crack down on "unqualified cheap tours" in September, stipulating that any tours priced 30 percent lower than official prices are considered illegal.

But Li Jie, with Qige Law Firm in Qinghai, said that even though China has taken action against cheap tours, more measures are needed.

"I think there should be more specific standards about the definition of budget tours, so that the public has a clearer idea," Li said. "The government should also guide the public on how to avoid illegal low-cost tours."

The lawyer added that different government departments should cooperate to supervise the tourism market to ensure the healthy and sustainable development of the industry.

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