Chinese complain as foreigners get free entry to Jiangxi’s top tourist sites

Authorities say they are trying to lure more overseas visitors to the province

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 7:33pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 11:24pm

A province in eastern China has come under fire ahead of the seven-day “golden week” holiday that begins on Monday for letting foreigners visit its top 10 scenic spots for free while Chinese have to pay.

Many tourism sites across mainland China offer discounted tickets or even free entry for local residents who show their identity card. But Jiangxi is the first province to extend this privilege to foreign visitors instead, and its decision has not gone down well with locals or domestic tourists.

The provincial authorities said they decided to waive entry fees for foreigners because they want to attract more overseas visitors to Jiangxi, and also to get more travellers through its international airport in the capital Nanchang.

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Tourist attractions included in the Jiangxi province scheme include Unesco World Heritage Site Mount Lu, which usually costs 180 yuan (US$26) to get into during peak season. Mount Longhu, where entry tickets are 175 yuan, and Mount Sanqing, 150 yuan, are also on the list, as is the Ancient Kiln Folk Customs Museum in Jingdezhen, China’s porcelain capital, where entry is 95 yuan.

Any tourist with an overseas passport and a boarding pass for a flight arriving at Changbei Nanchang airport does not have to pay for entry to the 10 designated sites in the province, year-round. But Chinese tourists – whether they are from Jiangxi or anywhere else in the country – still have to pay the entry fees.

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Although the new Jiangxi tourism pricing was introduced in May, many mainland Chinese have taken to social media to criticise the policy in the lead-up to the October 1 National Day holiday, when a lot of people will use the week off to travel.

One person wrote that it made him uncomfortable, and he felt it was discriminatory. “I just don’t understand – these are our scenic spots, why are the authorities being so harsh on the country’s own citizens?”

Another said: “The Jiangxi authorities should be aware that these tourism resources don’t just belong to Jiangxi, but also to China.”

Visitors to China’s tourism sites – from famous parks and rice terraces to temples, walled cities and historic places – have long complained of steep entry costs, which can be as high as US$95. But amid mounting criticism that most tourist attractions are too expensive compared with those in other countries, Premier Li Keqiang in March pledged to lower ticket prices at major government-run sites.

That has yet to result in cheaper travel for many people though, with some tourists saying ticket prices had gone down by just 3 to 5 yuan at some sites, Xinhua reported this week. It said some operators had cut entry fees but raised the prices of popular tour activities at their sites.

When it introduced the new pricing policy, Jiangxi said it hoped to draw 2.2 million overseas tourists to the province this year and set a target of US$730 million in tourism income from foreign visitors.

That would be 16 per cent higher than the number of overseas tourists who visited Jiangxi last year, and also 16 per cent more income than for 2017.

Last year, 1.89 million overseas tourists visited the province, up 3.9 per cent from 2016. They contributed US$630 million in income, up 7.8 per cent from the year before, according to the provincial authorities. They are also keen to get more international flight routes to the Changbei airport to boost tourism there.

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While it is not unusual for museum and tourism site operators in other countries to charge different prices, it usually goes in the favour of local visitors. Citizens and permanent residents get free entry to the National Museum of Singapore, for example, while a standard adult ticket for other visitors costs S$15 (US$11). And in New York City, residents of New York state and students from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut can decide how much they want to pay to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while general admission for other visitors costs US$25.