May Day Europe trip still out of reach
People may be itching to go sightseeing in Europe during the "Golden Week" of the May Day holiday, but their enthusiasm may be dampened by the simple fact that tour companies still don't have the green light to organize the trips.
The National Tourism Administration approved destination status agreements with 13 European countries earlier this year to simplify the application process for tourism visas.
At the same time, Several Beijing-based travel agencies are eager for the first tour group to European Union (EU) countries in the coming summer.
However, May Day holiday tours to Europe may be out of reach now, because travel agencies are still waiting for permission for tour packages from the administration, said Dun Jidong, marketing director of the Overseas Travel Department with China Travel Service.
"It takes at least a month for a travel agency to organize a foreign destination tour," Dun said Monday.
"The May Day tour package booking peak period will come next week and tour group arrangements need to be set by mid-April," Dun said.
Although travel agency employees are busy editing and revising promotional pamphlets about EU tour routes, starting dates are unknown.
China had approved destination status agreements with 42 countries and regions, including 13 European countries, Dun said.
The country has recently seen a 30 per cent annual increase in outbound tours, he said.
Last year, there were 20 million outbound Chinese, an increase of 21.8 per cent over the previous year, according to administration statistics.
By the end of last year, the number of Chinese travel agencies qualified to offer outbound tourism packages reached 528. There were less than 70 in 1999.
Holiday tourism in China is a big money maker, as was proved in recent years by "Golden Week" holidays such as May Day and National Day holidays.
However, unmanageable crowds and the poor service prevalent at some tourist spots and travel agencies have created some problems for the sector.
The National Holiday Affairs Office received more than 6,960 customer complaints last year, most of which reflected problems with bad service.
About 90 per cent of the complaints were related to domestic tourism companies, 9 per cent involved outbound travel and the rest are related to inbound travel.
Illegal practices such as the hiring of so-called "black guides" or guides without the certification who use non-existent contracts can still be found in the tourism industry, officials with the National Tourism Administration said.
False advertising is another problem, officials said.
Some complaints show some guides randomly cut down the number of scenic spots in tours and add more shopping stops to earn higher commissions, the administration's latest complaint report said.
A mainland tourist to Hong Kong complained that he was incited by a local guide to buy an expensive but low-quality home electronic appliance, the report said.
Hong Kong received 15.5 million visitors in 2003, the second highest on record, thanks to a surge in mainland visitors.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board forecasts that more than 20 million visitors will come to the city this year, a 30 per cent increase over last year.
More than 1.3 million new mainland visitors visited Hong Kong since the launch of the individual visit scheme last year.
The scheme, which allows mainland tourists from 14 cities to visit Hong Kong without joining group tours, will be extended to cover the whole of Guangdong Province by May this year. In other words, some 100 million mainlanders will be eligible to visit Hong Kong under the scheme.