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2018-07-11 12:45:42

A family is seeking compensation from a travel agency after a 74-year-old died during one of the company’s tours, a Nanjing-based newspaper reported on Tuesday.

On April 11, the man surnamed Lü, his wife, and four other relatives set out from their hometown of Changzhou, in eastern China’s Jiangsu province. During the nine-day trip arranged by Tongda Travel agency, they stopped in eight cities including Hong Kong, Macao, Zhuhai, and Guilin. According to the report from Modern Express newspaper, the family paid 998 yuan ($150) per person for the trip, although the travel agency told Sixth Tone that the full cost of train and ferry tickets would have totaled over 1,200 yuan, not including accommodation and meal costs.

“In the first four days, there were seven hours of sightseeing and 15 hours of shopping,” Lü’s wife told Modern Express. “The entire day in Hong Kong was about shopping, but in Macao the tour guide told us that if we paid an extra 130 yuan each, one shopping plan could be canceled.”

Trips like the one Lü went on are often called “zero-fare” tours. Travel agencies and tour guides charge low base rates and can only make money through kickbacks they receive from the shopping destinations. Such practices are hugely controversial, as elderly people often feel pressured to spend. While these pressure tactics have been banned in a national guideline, many tours still use them.

According to the wife, the couple were afraid of being publicly humiliated by the tour guide, so they spent 2,500 yuan on a camcorder, a necklace, and some snacks in Hong Kong and Macao. On the fifth day of the trip, the tour group arrived in Zhuhai, in southern China’s Guangdong province, where they were scheduled to do five hours of shopping at two stores. Lü complained that he was tired and wanted to stay on the bus, but the tour guide wouldn’t allow it.

Early the next morning, Lü fell into a coma while on a train heading to the tour’s next stop, Guilin, in southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. By the time the train arrived at the Guilin station more than half an hour later, Lü had stopped breathing. Doctors at a local hospital determined that he had died of a heart attack.

Zhao Beili, general manager of the Changzhou division of Tongda Travel, told Sixth Tone that the customer’s death had nothing to do with the company, and emphasized that the shopping schedules were laid out in the contracts that tourists signed.

“They knew what the trip would be like, and we strictly followed the agreed-upon schedules,” she said, adding that the trip cost 1,500 yuan — not 998 yuan as the family claimed. “Lü never told the tour guide that he felt extremely fatigued, let alone insisted that he stay on the bus. The tragedy could have happened even if he didn’t go on the trip.”

But Lü’s family maintain that he was healthy, aside from his diabetes. They claim that his heart attack was closely linked to the physically demanding shopping arrangements. The family members are currently negotiating with the travel agency for compensation and say that if they don’t get the result they want, they’ll take legal action.

An article on well-known Chinese health platform Family Doctor Online explains that heart attacks aren’t just related to heart disease — they can be triggered by excessive fatigue, mental stress, and cold weather.

In October 2015, Miao Chunqi, a tourist from northeastern China’s Heilongjiang province, died after being beaten in a Hong Kong jewelry store while on a zero-fare tour. Following the incident, Hong Kong announced a slew of measures to combat such practices, including patrolling shopping destinations, checking tourist agencies’ arrangements at stores, sending pamphlets to tourists advocating against zero-fare trips, and setting up a scheme where shops that join agree not to give kickbacks to tour groups.

Editor: Julia Hollingsworth.

(Header image: Elderly people wearing red hats visit the Forbidden City in Beijing, Oct. 9, 2016. Fred Dufour/VCG)