Pricey tourist attractions show a lack of foresight

Chinese travelers

Pricey tourist attractions show a lack of foresight

Chinese tourists visiting Fenghuang, a river town in Hubei province, have declined since local officials imposed an entrance fee

A few of China's most-visited tourist destinations will look a bit barren this National Day after local officials imposed or raised entrance fees to cash in on the huge crowds that swarm the sites.

National Day, which kicks off Tuesday and runs through October 7, is one of two official seven-day holidays but is the country's No. 1 break for vacation spending. It's known as “golden week,” if not for the quality time families will spend together, then for the heaps of cash the tourism industry looks to rake in over the period.

Some tour operators and airlines have seen declining growth in traveler numbers this year, in part due to government policy aimed at slapping officials' hands away from public coffers. New rules that forbid tour operators from dragging tourists through shops from which they get generous commissions have pushed up tour package prices, adding to the subdued travel figures.

The recent price hike for entrance tickets will add to the industry's woes and leave frugal consumers with yet fewer options for enjoying the travel primetime.

Perhaps the biggest shakeup among Chinese tourist sites this year was the RMB148 (US$24) entrance fee imposed on Fenghuang, a river town in Hunan province famous for traditional-style housing that lines the water. When the fee was announced in April, local business owners rose up to protest the potentially detrimental effect on tourist numbers.

The complaints were prescient. Reports show fewer travelers visited the town during the summer. One news story titled “The ancient city says goodbye to the busy season” depicted somewhat deserted stone streets in Fenghuang. That's a radical change from the image of Chinese tourist attractions packed to the brim with vacationers.

Fenghuang isn't the only spot to either raise or impose entrance fees this year. The trend has been repeated across the country to the discontent of Chinese travelers and local businesses.

Higher ticket fees at scenic spots have become so worrying that China's top economic planner has stepped in and instructed 1,400 of the sites to lower prices by at least 20%.

The National Development and Reform Commission no doubt recognizes the threat associated with spoiling the nation's most anticipated week of fun. However, it's unclear whether the directive will lower the cost of China's most important destinations, such as Fenghuang.

But central government agencies don’t always have to get involved in such matters. China’s iconic West Lake in the city of Hangzhou ditched entrance tickets in 2002 with the hope of bringing in more vacationers. The Hangzhou government has sought out the long-term development of businesses in the area as a stable stream of tax income across many sectors that cater to tourists.

Chinese travelers benefitting from higher disposable incomes and a greater desire to see more of their country would love to see such foresight from other local authorities.