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It is time to tackle problems associated with 'forced shopping' tours

Mainland Chinese tourists in Hong Kong Photo: AFP

Chinese travelers are known for emptying shelves when they shop abroad. But what if they refuse to buy merchandise during a "forced shopping" tour? The consequence can be fatal.

Last week, a mainland Chinese tourist died one day after being beaten up outside a jewelry shop in Hong Kong during a so-called "forced shopping" tour. The victim tried to intervene when a fellow tourist got into a fight with a tour guide after refusing to buy goods at the jewelry shop. It is said that the tour to Hong Kong merely costs 300 yuan, which is not enough to pay for the transportation expenses.

Several days later, a similar incident took place at a Beijing shop, where a tour guide tried to force the tourists to buy at a shop by threatening "if you do not buy things, I will not let you all off even after I die."

Some media have pointed the finger at the low-cost "forced shopping" tours for creating this chaotic situation in the tourism industry, an argument that has been endorsed by the China National Tourist Administration, which said in a statement, "The tourists should also be punished for joining in the unrealistically low-priced tours that might be attached with forced shopping activities."

China's new tourism law, which took effect on October 1, 2013, stipulates that travel operators are not allowed to gain from illicit activities by organizing unreasonably low-priced tours or roping travelers in tours attached with forced shopping and other paid activities.

The implementation of the new tourism law, however, has hampered the interest of tourist agencies in organizing specifically travel-focused tours due to the high costs. Instead, it has given a boost to the popularity of cut-price "forced shopping tours", which are very attractive to those tourists who are on a budget.

Can it be blamed on the greed of consumers? Is there a method to crack down on "forced shopping" tours?

Alibaba's Taobao online shopping platform may offer some clues. Despite being marred by sales of fakes by some registered stores, Taobao has established a relatively transparent online evaluation system, where buyers can make assessment of the quality of products they bought. The system forcibly restrains the online sellers from selling fake or defective goods, thus guaranteeing the legal interests of consumers.

In 2014, the total volume of China's online retail sales stood at 2.8 trillion yuan, an astronomical figure which, to a great extent, can be ascribed to the online supervision.

China's clampdown on private cabs, which are notorious for safety hazards, is another good example. The government has set up an online private car-hailing platform to organize private drivers, who have to follow sets of rules to create a good reputation.

It is high time to thoroughly standardize the tourism market, where the unqualified travel operators must be wiped out. Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, once said that his dream is to "make it easier to do business across the world." The realization of his mission is also the responsibility of China's travel authorities.

(This article is translated and edited by Ding Yi.)

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