Rally highlights how scams keep the travel industry ticking along

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2007, 12:00am

The Guilin protest has exposed one of the dark sides of the mainland travel industry, which often survives by offering travellers heavily discounted tours at the expense of their guides.

Most tour guides in Guilin receive no basic wages, but need to pay up to 40 per cent of the cost of a package as a fee to the travel agency to make up for the agency's discounts to the traveller. The guides have to pay the money up front and then try to recoup the cost through commissions from shops.

'In order to make a living we have to spare no efforts to extract commissions from tourists, including persuading them to pay extra to visit other, more expensive areas and to buy in shops where we can get good commissions from the owners,' guide Jordan Wang, 32, said.

Mr Wang said that at some famous spots like Xiangbi Mountain, guides were given discounted tickets by the park management but charged the tourists the full price of 30 yuan or even more. 'Some guides even ask each tourist to pay 50 yuan for the ticket and extra traffic costs,' he said. 'All of us have to seize every chance to profit from deception because we are doing an unstable job without social or medical insurance.'

Another said guides were worried about losing work after their scams were exposed by the Guilin Daily.

'The media should blame the local tourist department for the problems, not just us,' he said. 'We have been asking for basic pay since last year but no one responded to our request.'

Lack of regulation has been a common problem in the mainland's travel industry, especially in areas like Guilin, where many travel agencies are illegal, family-run operations.

Wu Jingmin , a former Shenzhen tour guide suing the National Tourism Administration for dereliction of duty over low pay and the poor quality of package tours, said some tour guide groups on the mainland were fighting the system.

'Since April 2006, guides in Shaanxi's Xian , Sichuan's Jiuzhaigou and Yunnan's Xishuangbanna have taken turns to strike, urging the local government to issue rules protecting their benefits,' he said. 'But authorities have turned a deaf ear.'

Guides and tourists were the victims of the unregulated sector and the problem could only be solved if collusion between local enterprises and government departments was eliminated.

'It's a pity Guilin guides have just focused on their own situation and ignored the fact that tourists are also victims,' he said. 'It's also nonsense to force local media to apologise because they are telling the truth.'