Investment and education key to clean toilets

Despite the billions of yuan spent, there are still regular complaints about facilities that are dirty, poorly maintained and reeking with foul odours

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 April, 2017, 12:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 April, 2017, 12:01am

Tourists are a fickle lot; quite often, the deciding factor on where they go is the state of public toilets. Chinese authorities, only too aware of this inclination, have understandably been focusing on improving facilities, particularly at tourism sites. There has been a marked change over the years, but in many places there is still some way to go, especially outside major cities and in rural areas. Even more investment is needed, both in infrastructure and educating about hygienic habits.

A target set three years ago by the China National Tourism Administration to upgrade and build tens of thousands of new toilets is almost 90 per cent complete. President Xi Jinping (習近平) launched the campaign, showing how seriously it was being taken. Reputation is at stake, after all; the tourism industry earned about 3.9 trillion yuan (HK$4.4 trillion) last year. Yet for all the billions of yuan in funding and work, there are still regular complaints about facilities that are dirty, poorly maintained and reeking with foul odours.

Most of the top-rated attractions have improved their facilities and attention has moved to lesser sites. But tourists often have an adventurous streak and that is where a particular challenge lies: improving bathrooms across the nation. Many of the nation’s old public toilets are a row of pits or a communal trench, often without privacy, adequate plumbing or even paper. The toilet habits of people not accustomed to Western-style facilities can often leave much to be desired.

Visitors to rest rooms in busy train and bus stations are often only too aware of the education deficit. Familiar and modern facilities have been installed, but the mess left by users assaults the senses. Many a tourist has a horror story to tell of visiting such places and it leaves a lasting impression on a trip that is shared back home with other potential tourists. It takes more than a billion-dollar campaign to improve circumstances.

A year remains on the campaign, but the effort cannot stop there. It has to be enlarged beyond tourist sites to third- and fourth-tier cities and rural districts. With improved facilities has to come the most important of all elements: educating about better toilet habits.