Xi’an, Home of Terra-Cotta Army, Is Fed Up With Tourism
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2017-08-14 11:17:23

The residents of Xi’an, in northwestern China, have had enough of the city’s chaotic tourism industry. Their world-famous attractions, such as the famed terra-cotta warriors, bring in millions of visitors but also countless charlatans.

A dozen top officials from the city’s tourism bureau were questioned Tuesday about the city’s messy industry on a TV show called “Moment of Government Inquiry,” which grills local officials about problems in the areas under their purview and is broadcast on a Xi’an government-owned TV station.

They tried to convince a studio audience of about 360 Xi’an residents of their work. But at the end of the episode, only a little over 25 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the explanations and solutions given by the officials onstage — the worst approval rating since the show’s first episode in April 2016.

Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, has a long and rich history as the seat of multiple dynasties and the eastern end of the Silk Road. It is most famous for the terra-cotta warriors, buried to protect China’s first emperor in the afterlife and now a popular UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2016, more than 150 million tourist visits earned the city some 120 billion yuan ($18 billion).

But visitors to the ancient city need to be vigilant in order not to fall into traps, some of which fall on the farcical side. In January, media reported that travelers were scammed into visiting an entire fake terra-cotta army.

In one video shown during “Moment of Government Inquiry,” a reporter who posed as a tourist was scolded by an unlicensed tour guide for refusing to buy products in a shop that they had been led to.

After watching the footage, Hu Yang, head of a district tourism bureau in Xi’an, replied that unlicensed guides are hard to police. “The cost of breaking the law is too low,” he said, calling for the law to revised.

In another undercover video, a reporter was told to park their car at the gate of a scenic spot and then taken to another gate two kilometers away — this one leading to a shopping area. At another tourist site, visitors were pressured to buy trinkets and pay to have their fortunes told. The reporters tried to complain to the city’s tourist hotline, which opened in May, but could not get through.

Zhang Zhenhai, head of tourism in another district, said he had come across all the problems shown in the clips during his five-year term of office, and admitted that he felt ashamed. He said that his bureau had tried to crack down on the problems, though they kept resurfacing. “They’re difficult to deal with, as the market is too big,” he said.

At the end of the episode, Zhang Yongke, the head of the city’s tourism bureau, concluded that the issues must be fixed, given that tourism revenue accounts for 18 percent of the city’s total income. “We must take action and shoulder responsibility to prevent the ‘tourism flag’ from falling down,” he said — though only a quarter of the studio audience seemed convinced he would succeed.

The episode has resonated with users of microblog platform Weibo, who shared their bad experiences of traveling in the city. One user commented that Xi’an’s problems made visitors “suffer bitterly with tears in their eyes.”

After the show was broadcast, the city’s tourism officials held a meeting at which they decided to give the citizens a “satisfying answer” by overhauling the tourism industry over the next four months, according to a social media post by the Xi’an government on Friday.

Tuesday’s broadcast was the eighth episode of “Moment of Government Inquiry” this year. The program first aired in April of last year, and previous episodes have hosted cadres in charge of housing, food, and law enforcement. After one episode earlier this year about environmental protection, three high-ranking officials were removed from their posts.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: Audience members vote on how satisfied they are with specific government department during an episode of the TV show ‘Moment of Government Inquiry,’ in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, March 8, 2017. VCG)