Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Govt's tourist perks backfire

Instead of getting thank-yous, the moves to waive highway tolls and cut admission prices at tourist spots nationwide have received mostly brickbats.
Motorists blame the toll waiver for inducing more people to take to the roads, thus worsening the annual jams this year, which saw traffic on 24 expressways in 16 provinces and cities grinding to a halt on Sunday.
In turtle-speed traffic that saw cars crawl 1km in one hour, drivers and passengers reportedly got so bored that they played tennis and walked their dogs on the highways.
The waiver is a well-meaning policy gone wrong, said IT engineer Xu Ting, 40, who spent an extra hour travelling from Beijing to Tianjin for his break though he saved 80 yuan (S$16) in tolls.
"It is a good policy aimed at benefiting the people. But good policies need good implementation to produce the desired results," he added.
Like him, many are questioning why the new policy was rolled out on Sunday, the first day of the eight-day break, when traffic was already expected to be chaotic like in previous years.
It should have been tried out at least a week earlier so that teething problems would not have exacerbated the jams, said doctor Liu Qiyong, 42. Congestion led him to take eight hours, instead of the usual six, to get to the eastern province of Shandong from the capital on Sunday.
The government's explanation for the toll waiver is that it wants to stimulate the domestic tourism industry.
However, transport analyst Zhao Jian from Beijing Jiaotong University believes it has other purposes.
"The policy is aimed at quelling the discontentment among people over the rising toll fees, as a result of the profit-motivated, privately run highway model in China," he said.
"It solves a headache temporarily without tackling the root of the problem."
Also, the grand gesture sends a wrong signal, he added. It goes against China's current focus of sustainable development by encouraging people to drive instead of using public transport.
Off the roads, the government's move to cut admission prices at some 170 tourist attractions across China during the holidays has been slammed too.
Many Chinese have gone online to criticise the move, saying it rings hollow as the list includes many unpopular tourist spots.
"I've never heard of some of the sites on the list except the Bagong Mountain," said a netizen who goes by the name "kubidexingqisan" on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblogging service.
Prices have been slashed on average between 25 per cent and 37 per cent, but the cuts do not apply to major sights like the Potala Palace in Tibet, the Forbidden City in Beijing and the Yellow Mountain in Anhui province.
The authorities say the cuts are aimed at letting more people enjoy the tourist spots. But many believe it is a ploy to promote the unpopular spots.
Accountant Xu Yun, for instance, complained in a Global Times report: "As a Shanghai resident, it's ridiculous to go to the Heqin Peach Garden in October because it's not the season for viewing peach trees."
Others, pointing to hefty discounts offered at some attractions, asked whether tourists had been overcharged previously.
But some welcome the move, citing the high prices in China compared with other countries.
In Japan, the average ticket price for tourist attractions is about 1,000 yen (S$16), or about 0.3% of average Japanese monthly incomes.
But in China, average ticket prices are about 1% of average monthly incomes.
The controversy has led to calls for a nationwide system to regulate the pricing practices at tourist spots so as to make them more transparent.
An editorial on Tuesday last week by Beijing News daily wrote: "A clear system will allow the public to enjoy the lower admission prices without having to worry when such benefits will disappear again."