Mainland lawmakers signalled a crackdown on cheap group tours yesterday when the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress approved the country's first Tourism Law.
Wang Chaoying, a member of the NPC Standing Committee's legal affairs subcommittee, said the protection of tourists by strengthening market regulation was a central piece of the law.
"The law covers two issues the public are most concerned about - the cheap tours and high admission fees at scenic spots - because they have been the source of grievances from tourists for years," Wang said.
Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong executive director Joseph Tung Yao-chung said: "We are very pleased with the introduction of the Tourism Law. It will certainly help crack down on the so-called forced shopping or zero-fee tours. We shall also help make sure such malpractice will not happen when the tourists are in Hong Kong."
There have been complaints from time to time about zero-fee tours to Hong Kong, with tourists taken to designated shops and falling victim to dishonest sales tactics.
A seven-minute video of a Hong Kong tour guide berating mainlanders for not spending enough money in shops triggered a huge outcry both in Hong Kong and on the mainland in July 2010. The guide's licence was revoked and the tour operator fined HK$47,500.
China National Tourism Administration deputy director Du Yili said the Tourism Law made it illegal for tour operators to promote such low-cost tours and force tourists on them to shop.
"Both operators and tourists should have a clear understanding of their rights, obligations and responsibilities to cultivate healthy market order," she said.
There has been growing dismay expressed recently over fee increases at many mainland scenic spots ahead of the three-day May Day holiday. The local government overseeing the famed Fenghuang old town in Hunan province came under fire earlier this month for introducing a fee of 148 yuan (HK$184) for access to the ancient town without conducting a public review.
Several hundred Fenghuang residents and business owners protested against the move, saying they were worried it would scare tourists away.
Wang Wei, a department head at the National Development and Reform Commission, said there were two clauses relating to admission fees for scenic spots in the new law, which would require operators to be more transparent on changes.
Management at scenic spots will have to publicise proposed fee rises six months before being allowed to proceed with such plans following a public hearing.