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    Tour Guides Sentenced for Scamming, Beating Customers

    Latest court verdict a reminder of the unsavory practices common in China’s tourism industry.
    Jul 25, 2017#law & justice

    Five tour guides who were caught on camera in Beijing last year slapping and harassing customers have each been sentenced to up to a year in prison and fined 2,000 yuan ($300), financial news outlet Caixin reported Monday.

    The video, which went viral on China’s Weibo microblog platform in September 2016 under the hashtag “Tourists slapped by shady tour guide,” is filmed inside a bus parked at the Great Wall. It shows three men surrounding a tourist and demanding money, and a female tour guide who appears and says: “Do you understand or not? Give me money!”

    In response to the ensuing public outcry, police in Beijing and Hebei, both in northern China, arrested four of the five tour company staff involved, with the fifth later turning himself in. They were charged with violating the country’s criminal law against coercing and forcing others to purchase goods or services, and sentenced on June 27. The verdict was not announced until mid-July.

    The unsuspecting tourists had found themselves caught up in a scam. Prior to the stop, the guides agreed to extort their passengers for payment in order to be let off the bus and see the Great Wall. The tourists were told they needed to pay the guides an extra fee of 160 yuan. When some customers refused to pay, the guides became aggressive, calling one group from central Hunan province “barbarians.” In total, the guides solicited an extra 1,720 yuan from their patrons.

    Coercion and shakedowns are not uncommon in China’s tourism industry. Many if not most tours involve a stop at a large gift shop, where visitors are strongly encouraged to buy souvenirs by their guides — who often receive kickbacks from the merchants. Such practices have become an accepted part of touring in China, and speaking out against them may get you insulted by your guide or even blackballed by the tourism industry.

    Occasionally, confrontations between tourists and tour guides find their way into the national spotlight. In April 2015, a video of a guide in southwestern Yunnan province berating tourists for not spending enough money went viral, resulting in the guide losing her license and the tour company compensating customers with 500 yuan each.

    And in October 2015, a fight between a guide and a tourist who didn’t want to buy anything at a scheduled shopping stop in Hong Kong led to the death of a fellow mainland tourist: When 53-year-old Miao Chunqi from northeastern Heilongjiang stepped in to intervene, he was attacked by four men and later died at the hospital.

    Contributions: Yin Yijun; editor: David Paulk.

    (Header image: A tour guide holds a sign promoting an all-day excursion in Beijing, July 31, 2014. Hong Yu/VCG)