Hooray for the holiday ... but fun trips come at a high price
National holidays offer workers the chance to gather up the family, escape the city and wander around one of the mainland's famous national parks, lakes or mountaintops. A rare break from a monotonous job, smoggy sidewalks and a slow death in traffic.
As incomes rise and more people are willing to spend on trips to scenic spots, the operators of these attractions are responding to the boom in demand as any business would - by raising prices, but often to levels far beyond what most families can afford.
Over this month's three-day Labour Day holiday, mainland media seized on the price-gouging with a series of reports on attractions across the country.
Admission to top attractions this year could jump by 20 per cent to as much as 100 per cent, Xinhua reported. A single ticket to enter Jiuzhaigou , a national park in northern Sichuan province, is priced at 220 yuan (HK$270).
A ride in a bus around the park requires another 90 yuan. Tickets were less expensive at Yellowstone National Park in the United States, Mount Fuji in Japan and the Taj Mahal in India, the report said.
China Central Television said on Wednesday the price of admission to the Shouxihu scenic spot in Yangzhou , Jiangsu , had risen from 60 yuan to 120 yuan just days before the start of the holiday.
China Daily this week reported on an online poll that suggested nearly 90 per cent of respondents felt a price below 100 yuan was more acceptable, yet nearly half of 130 leading scenic areas on the mainland charge more than that.
The root of the problem lies with local governments. Officials lean heavily on admission ticket business to fill their coffers.
'In theory, scenic areas are public property, but to think this is actually the case would be naive,' the paper quoted Zhang Lingyun, vice-dean of the tourism institute at Beijing Union University, as saying.
'In reality, the local government often treats these natural resources as cash cows for their economy.'
Not surprisingly, issues of face play a role in the sharp rise in admission fees. One director of a local scenic spot told the Hubei Daily on Wednesday: 'Local governments can gain face by having high ticket prices.
'It has to do with competition among neighbouring attractions. If you are charging more, then your attraction must be better.'
The trend has stirred anger among some in the party. Hu Xijin , editor in chief of Global Times, said the practice amounted to robbery. 'It shows the gall of our local governments. They have are robbing the people without any shame,' Hu wrote on his microblog.
In the wake of the escalating prices, some media offered their readers alternative ways to visit sites 'on the cheap'. The Beijing Times reported on the popularity of an online 'handbook for freeloaders', which outlines ways people can avoid paying for tickets at hundreds of mainland tourist locations.
Mount Tai, for instance, located north of the city of Taian in Shandong , charges 125 yuan for admission and 140 yuan to take a round trip on its cable car. The handbook describes six different ways to get in for free, although one route did require tourists to scale 50 metres along a cliff.
Not surprisingly, Mount Tai's operator replied: 'We don't recommend that.'
Another way to avoid paying for a ticket but without risking life and limb or a visit to the local police station is through special licences.
Yanzhao Evening News in Hebei reported on Friday that some people have joined a local photographers' association to get tickets at tourism sights for free.
'Many locations offer free tickets for photographers, and that became the only reason some people joined the association,' the report said.
Despite the excessive charges, attractions recorded a surge in traffic over the past holiday. Beijing TV said the number of visitors at the Forbidden City in Beijing rose by 26 per cent on the first day of the holiday, compared to the year before. Video showed lines stretching 200 metres in front of the site's 16 ticket offices.
The surge of tourists has even prompted the creation of a special index, like the ones used for air pollution or UV exposure. The Beijing Morning News reported that the city's new monitoring system, updated hourly, on visitor traffic at eight major tourist destinations in the capital, had been a help to tourists.