Travel agencies fined for forcing tourists to buy 'Tibetan home meals'

Members of Yunnan tour group faced threats and abandonment if they refused to pay up

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 10:36pm

Two Yunnan travel agencies have been punished and two of their tour guides have lost their licences for forcing tourists to pay extra for "Tibetan home meals".

The incident, in which the guides threatened tourists who refused to pay and abandoned them on the side of the road, was the latest travel horror story to come to light as the National Day "golden week" draws to a close.

The National Holiday Office, which is under the State Council and led by the National Tourism Administration, issued a statement yesterday condemning the behaviour. The statement cited a law banning forced shopping which took effect on Tuesday.

The Yunnan provincial tourism watchdog fined the travel agencies involved - the Diqing Shangri-la China Youth Travel Service and the Diqing Kawagebo Travel Agency - and barred them from operating for one month. A task force has been sent to the Tibetan autonomous prefecture of Diqing to investigate the case.

The guides were caught on video forcing customers to pay as much as 380 yuan (HK$480) each for a Tibetan "home meal". The price varied depending on what the customer ate. Yak cost the most, while chicken was 20 yuan less.

A China Central Television report yesterday showed one of the guides telling a coach full of tourists: "Tour guides in Shangri-la are very horrible, have you heard? Tour guides in Shangri-la will put a knife on your neck, you know. Let's see if I will put a knife on your neck today."

Three tourists who were unwilling to pay were forced out of the bus between Lijiang and Shangri-la, at least two hours from either city, the report said.

The tourists tried to report the case to tourism authorities in Diqing, but an agent told them: "If you pay as they [tour guides] tell you, they won't kick you out."

The agent, who was also suspended from work yesterday, was filmed telling the tourists: "People like you, don't come to Shangri-la ever again! I'll kick you out! I'll do what I say!"

Those who agreed to pay up realised that the "home meal" turned out to be a dinner in a big hall where dancers performed. Requests for refunds were greeted with loud rejections, the report showed.

Authorities said it appears the videotaped incident happened on August 14, but state media said many other tourists had been subjected to similar treatment.

Ma Kun, leader of a tourism law enforcement team in Yunnan, told China News Service that a crackdown on aggressive practices by travel agencies last year had achieved some success and incidents began to decline. But the complaints had recently begun to rise again, he said.