The introduction of an entry fee for an ancient scenic town in Hunan province has led to a sharp decline in tourists, and Chinese Internet users say the policy discourages visitors.
"We have begun to witness the impact of the new policy," a female employee at March Inn in Fenghuang county, which is well known for its historical and scenic attractions, said on Sunday. She declined to give her name.
The ancient town of Fenghuang county, Hunan province. Saturday was the first weekend day admission was charged to enter the town. Zhao Zhongzhi / Xinhua
"All the rooms in my hostel were usually booked up during weekends in the past, but this weekend we have seen a sharp drop in guests and reservation. There are far fewer tourists on the streets than before."
According to an online poll by Sina, one of China's most popular news websites, nearly 93 percent of respondents said they will not go to Fenghuang because of the charge. The poll had drawn nearly 90,000 participants by late Sunday.
Six percent said they do not care about the policy since they are not interested in visiting Fenghuang.
Only 1 percent said they will go to the ancient town regardless of the cost.
Tourism is Fenghuang'a main industry. According to the county government, Fenghuang received around 2.3 million travelers and earned 5.3 billion yuan ($856 million) in tourism revenue last year. The industry provided more than 20,000 jobs, and about 60,000 people make a living by serving tourists.
To "regulate the tourism market", the county issued a ticket policy on Wednesday that stipulates tourists must pay an entrance fee of 148 yuan to visit the old town of Fenghuang, which includes admission to 10 scenic areas.
Entry to the town used to be free but tourists had to buy tickets for each scenic spot they visited.
The measure has sparked a backlash from businesses and tourists.
"The policy's results are not very clear since it just took effect, but I think it will have a substantial impact on us in the long run," said the owner of Bianke Cafe, who only gave his surname Cai.
"As far as I know, some hostels have begun to receive calls from people wanting to cancel their reservation. The number of customers to my cafe has also been declining over the weekend compared with the past."
Concerned business owners staged a protest on Thursday, blocking access to tourist sites and requesting authorities adjust the charge policy.
The crowd was later dispersed by law enforcement officers, and four people involved in a physical conflict with officers were taken away by police, Cai Long, deputy head of the county government, said on Saturday.
He said the policy was introduced to regulate the tourism market and will help to protect the old town and benefit business in the long run.
Meanwhile, Zhao Haifeng, executive deputy head of Fenghuang county, said the government is aware of the policy's effect on small businesses and will take measures to assist them.
"It is inevitable that hostels will receive less independent tourists than before, and reforms will definitely produce some pains," he said. "During this process, the government is going to help those affected overcome difficulties."
However, business owners remain skeptical toward the policy and its possible consequences.
"The government never contacted or negotiated with us before the policy was made, and we have not seen any concrete efforts by the government to help us," the employee at March Inn said.
"Authorities claim that one of the measure's intentions is to address 'illegal businesses and irregular operations' in the tourism market, and I am OK with that. But I think the ultimate solution to those problems is to help people get better jobs rather than taking their bread."