White snow of Snow Country unable to cover up stain of China's domestic travel industry
Photos: image.baidu.com
A resort hailed as “Snow Country” in northeast China has recently been brought into disrepute after a netizen recounted his experience of being almost kicked out by the hostel he had made reservation with and paid in advance just because a deluge of tourists had pushed up the prices. The incident is the latest in a series of bad news stories about China's best-value destinations that made national headlines, leading netizens and observers to wonder what are the real problems behind China's embattled tourism industry.

On December 29, a netizen called “Yimuxing” posted an article titled White Snow of Snow Country Could Not Cover Up Darkness of Humanity on WeChat, immediately arousing heated debates on social media while striking a chord among those who went through similar “ordeals” while traveling to the forest region famous for romantic snow-covered landscapes.

According to Yimuxing, he paid 552 yuan a week in advance for two nights' stay in a suite featuring a heated brick bed for three people, while when he and his family arrived there, they were allowed only one night's stay. The hostel owner claimed the kind of suite they reserved could easily be booked out at prices ranging from 800-1,000 yuan, so he was nice enough to allow them one night's stay. Yumuxing was then cautioned not to make any negative comments about the hostel online or his lodging fee for the second night's stay will not even be refunded.

The “gangster inn” is not the only tourist trap in Shuangfeng Forrest Farm, a famous resort in northeast China's Heilongjiang province, which is mostly called Snow Country, a name that evokes romantic feelings. Yimuxing meanwhile complained in his article that the steward on board the tour bus engaged in hard sell. Some other netizen who said to have recently visited there liked Yimuxing's post, claiming he had been charged 288 yuan for one simple fried dish with meat and 15 yuan for one cup of sugar water. The netizen also claimed to have witnessed sled dogs being ill-treated there.

With the news making national headlines in a few days, the local authorities proclaimed they had investigated the matter, finding out the whopping price of fried dish to be not true although the involved hostel did manipulate the price. Liu Zhongcai, the head of Dahailin Tourist Administration Bureau, told local Chinese media the hostel owner had been fined 59,000 yuan, and his business had been suspended temporarily.

Liu insisted the incident was a special case while indicating they were considering taking legal action against the netizen who claimed to have paid sky-high prices for dishes. The official response was widely denounced by many Chinese netizens for adding fuel to fire.

Back in January 2015, some netizens called Siam Bird had first released bad news about the Snow Country with a WeChat article titled the Impure Snow Queen, in which he complained that he had spent 3,200 yuan on a common suite with bathroom, 220 yuan on one stewed chick with mushroom and 180 yuan on a few scrambled eggs. Siam Bird estimated several days' holiday in Harbin, Yabuli, a ski resort, and Snow Country would cost around 15,000 yuan per person, equal to 14 days' tour through seven countries in Europe.

The Beijing Youth Daily interviewed a common inn keeper in the Shuangfeng Forest Farm, whose name is Fan Zhaoyi. Fan used to be a lumberjack in the farm. In 2004, he was convinced by the local government to invest 10,000 yuan on remodeling his one-storey house with several rooms into a family inn.

According to him, the business could hardly help him make ends meet in the beginning. After 2013, when an extremely popular celebrity show chose the farm as a filming site for one of its episodes, the resort rose to prominence with a deluge of visitors rushing in from all across the country just to take a photo in front of a snow-covered log cabin. In 2013, the Snow Country received 180,000 tourists and in the second year, the number shot to 300,000.

According to Fan Zhaoyi, the “authentic” Snow Country, constitutes of merely around 100 households, so the number of visitors means good money for local people. Fan told Beijing Youth Daily his family business could on average gross 300,000 yuan annually. “Real Snow Country merchants care about their reputation and the involved hostel in Yimuxing's article is not situated in the Shuangfeng Forest Farm, but somewhere 10 square kilometers away,” he argued.

It's reported by CCTV, China's national television, that the snow world in northeast China has become a golden hill. During the winter of 2016- 2017, the ice-snow tourism market attracted 170 million visitors, grossing around 270 billion yuan. In five years’ time, it's estimated the number of tourists attracted would reach 340 million, with a revenue of 670 billion yuan. Meanwhile, the yields for related industries would scale to 2.88 trillion yuan.

Among the follow-up comments made about the Snow Country incident, many citizens tended to relate the tourist traps in the northeast, also referred to as China's rust belt which is made up of the three provinces Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang, to its gloomy economy. It's acknowledged numerous factors have led to the Old Industry Base's decline—China's shifting economic model, zombie state-owned companies that failed to compete with the flexibility of the private sector, and China's recent efforts to steer away from polluting industries are most often quoted reasons.

China's central government has been concerned about the northeast’s stagnant economy. According to a Forbes commentary, since the early 2000s, the grand plan of “Rejuvenating the Old Dongbei Industry Base” had been appearing in the Party propaganda, although no significant change has been made.

However, the fairytale Snow Country in the northeast is not the only scenic destination criticized for pitfalls for tourists. Before this, news about tourists being priced out of the market and extorted while visiting some of China's best-value destinations had attracted national attention again and again, which included barbecue restaurants in Qingdao, east China's beautiful coastal city, reported charging around 1,500 yuan for a dish of shrimps, and a seafood eatery in Sanya, south China's Hainan province, giving a bill of 9,746 yuan for merely seven dishes.

“The Snow Country incident has 'nothing new' for China's troubled tourism industry. The evil-minded merchants, inflated prices and hard sell—all the problems have actually haunted the industry for many years. If we dig deeper, we will find lack of regulation, regulatory oversight and no self-discipline among industry practitioners,” commented a netizen, noting the whole industry is now “purely driven by profit”.

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