Time to end the massive chaos of the 'golden week' holidays

The 'golden week' holidays are the only time many millions get a chance to travel - which means chaos and massive overcrowding

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 October, 2012, 3:15am

Mainlanders like to compare being caught in throngs of people, all jostling to get through a crowded place, to making their favourite dish - boiling dumplings in hot water.

That comparison is a fitting metaphor for the nightmarish experience of tens of millions of holidaymakers who packed the nation's motorways, trains and airports during the week-long National Day holiday, which ended yesterday.

Online postings of pictures, along with state media reports, painted a picture of holiday mayhem on an unprecedented scale. The country's main roads were so packed, they appeared to be sprawling car parks.

Major tourism sites were so crowded that some visitors could see little more than the backs of people right in front of them.

There were plenty of horror stories of people being stranded, on top of mountains and other places, for hours without food or drink, only for them to then be ripped off by unscrupulous businesses. As holidaymakers recover from their vacations, many of which turned into nightmares, internet users and state media have started a new round of soul-searching over the holiday system. It is high time they did.

The central government introduced annual week-long "golden" holidays in 1999, after the Asian Financial Crisis, as a way to boost mainland consumer spending and fuel economic growth.

But mainlanders have long seen that the negatives of such holidays greatly outweigh the positives, as several hundred million trips are made during just seven or eight days.

These mass movements have not only sucked the fun and relaxation out of trips, but also resulted in unbearable pressure being placed on the country's infrastructure. Moreover, they have caused serious environmental damage to the country's heritage sites, which cannot handle the influx of so many people at the same time, even though the tourism industry rakes in billions of yuan in revenue during the holidays.

To be sure, given the size of the population and mainlanders' intensified yearning for holiday travel as they get richer, holiday rushes are sometimes inevitable, particularly during the Lunar New Year holiday, when people traditionally travel home for family reunions.

But there are several steps that the central government can easily take to make holiday travel more fun and enjoyable for mainlanders.

First, it is time for Beijing to review and fundamentally overhaul the holiday system. It should abolish the current arrangement of giving people entire weeks off for the National Day and Lunar New Year holidays.

But before that, it should increase the amount of paid leave that people receive. Ironically, China may be known for having a week-long National Day holiday, but that fact is that only the first three days are paid for, and the rest must be made up by working the weekend preceding the holiday.

And this year's National Day holiday was a day longer because the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday fell on September 30.

In fact, despite China's long-standing claim that workers are the masters in a socialist country, mainlanders enjoy one of the lowest levels of paid leave in world, ranging from five days for people with less than five years of experience to 10 days for people with five to 10 years of experience.

Second, the government should encourage mainlanders to take paid leave at times of their own choosing.

Currently, mainland employers, including multi-nationals, do not encourage their workers to take paid leave, except during the golden week holidays.

This means that mainlanders have little choice but to hit the road if they want to do any travelling during the year, even though they know they are likely to get caught up in the mayhem.

Third, the government should implement a better early warning system to help handle the holiday rush, such as using social media and other electronic media to give timely updates about road conditions and the size of crowds at major tourism sites.