China has finally passed a tourism law to regulate the industry and give tourists more protection. First raised in the 80s but shelved as travelling was still considered a novelty, the new law has been rightly hailed a milestone in that for the first time it gives tourists the right to complain and seek redress. The statute is much needed as the nation strives to cope with the boom in tourism. The protection for tourists can also help improve the country's image and strengthen its competitiveness in the global market.
Passed by the National People's Congress Standing Committee, the law sets out the rights of tourists, safety standards requirements, the dos and don'ts for tour operators, as well as the handling of complaints in 112 articles. It also seeks to address a broad range of problems, such as cheap tours to Hong Kong and sudden admission fee increases at scenic spots on the mainland. Under the law, to be enforced in October, public tourist attractions should publicise proposed fee increases six months in advance and conduct open hearings. It also prohibits tours at unreasonably low prices and forced shopping. Earlier, Hong Kong banned such tours after a series of high-profile abuses. Hopefully, the new law can enhance protection for incoming tourists.
The enactment cannot be more timely amid growing dismay over fee increases at many mainland scenic spots ahead of the Labour Day holidays. The recent introduction of a 148 yuan (HK$184) charge for visiting historic Fenghuang old town in Hunan is an example of how heritage and monuments are being used by municipal authorities to make money. These priceless treasures are best preserved for public enjoyment rather than exploited as profit-making tools.
There is much to be gained from healthy tourism development. In 2012, there were 2.9 billion trips within China. The number of outbound tourists rose to 80 million. According to the China Tourism Academy, the country benefited from US$48.5 billion in foreign exchange from 133 million visitors during the year. Tourism revenue hit 2,570 billion yuan, supporting a workforce of 63 million across different sectors. The industry is too important to be messed up.
More Chinese and foreigners are expected to travel in and out of the country as it opens up to the world. China stands to benefit by offering them the best service and hospitality and, above all, better protection underpinned by law.