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    Journalists Not Welcome: Yunnan Travel Agencies Bar ‘Sensitive Occupations’

    Criticized for their high-pressure tactics to get clients to make purchases, travel agencies in Yunnan province are barring journalists from taking their tours to suppress negative coverage.
    Jul 19, 2023#tourism#media

    With summer being the peak travel season in China, Chinese people are taking holidays around the country and abroad, often on low-cost group tours. However, it has emerged recently that some travel agencies in the popular tourist destination of Yunnan province in southwest China are not welcoming journalists on their group tours.

    Well-known for its diverse culture and landscape, Yunnan also has a reputation for low-cost tours where customers are subject to huge pressure to buy souvenirs at local stores. Following a public backlash, travel agencies are imposing restrictions on journalists to reduce the likelihood of their questionable business practices being exposed. 

    Posing as a potential customer, Sixth Tone found that several travel agencies in Yunnan have such restrictions on journalists.

    “To be honest, we are afraid of serving journalists,” a customer service agent at China International Travel Agency in the provincial capital of Kunming told Sixth Tone. “We are afraid of being exposed if we do not serve our customers well during the trip.”

    The agent said it is very likely that journalists will find bad things to report on during the tours, especially during the busy summer season. A customer service manager at the agency told local media Shangyou News that they also bar lawyers and members of other “sensitive occupations” from joining their tours.

    On Wednesday, China International Travel Agency publicly denied refusing services to journalists and lawyers in a video on short-video platform Douyin. 

    Most travel agencies in China offer cheap holiday tours that include mandatory visits to local stores, from which they earn commission from any purchases made there. China International Travel Agency lists a six–day package tour to Yunnan including visits to local silverware stores and a distribution center selling the medicinal algae spirulina at 1,380 yuan ($190) per person, while the same tour without visiting these stores costs 2,160 yuan per person.

    The agency suggested that journalists choose the more expensive option or travel on their own. Another agency, Kunming Comfort Travel Service Company, also told Sixth Tone that journalists are advised to travel by themselves.

    As domestic travel picks up again following years of pandemic restrictions, videos have circulated online in recent weeks showing Yunnan tour guides verbally abusing clients refusing to make purchases or sleeping on the tour bus instead of browsing stores.

    According to China’s state broadcaster CCTV, a Yunnan travel agency in 2017 listed rules barring lawyers, journalists, and other people working in the tourism industry from joining their tours. Following a crackdown on such practices by the travel platform Ctrip, none of the travel agencies Sixth Tone contacted now have explicit restrictions based on occupation listed on their pages.

    Zhang Weiping, a lawyer at Guangdong Pingwei Law Firm, told Shangyou News that China’s Tourism Law and the Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests do not allow for the discrimination of consumers based on occupation.

    A staff member at the Yunnan Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism told Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper on Tuesday that they are investigating the situation.

    Editor: Vincent Chow.

    (Header image: Visitors at Dukezong Ancient City in Shangri-La, Yunnan province, July 12, 2022. Liu Ranyang/CNS/VCG)