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    Chinese Cities Roll Back Pandemic-Era Tourist Site Ticketing Systems

    Since 2020, tourist attractions across China have used online ticketing systems that require real-name registration. But the unpopular policy is finally being scaled back in some areas.
    Jul 08, 2024#tourism#business

    Cities across China are moving to scrap online ticketing systems for tourist sites that require real-name registration.

    Some major Chinese tourist attractions began requiring visitors to reserve tickets — sometimes several days ahead of time — via online platforms in 2019 to deal with overcrowding. After COVID-19 struck, this became mandatory in cities all over the country, with authorities using the systems to track and trace close contacts and restrict visitor numbers.

    But online-only ticketing also caused a number of issues, with many visitors complaining that the systems were inconvenient, required too much personal information, and were frequently hijacked by scalpers.

    Now, a growing number of local governments are moving to roll back the systems, with the eastern city of Hangzhou becoming the latest to announce the scrapping of mandatory online ticketing on July 5.

    According to the municipal authorities, all A-level tourist attractions in the city will no longer require reservations for entry. Another 10 cities — including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou — have announced similar moves since June.

    Some cities may retain mandatory reservation systems in some cases to deal with overcrowding. Hangzhou will allow popular venues to require reservations during major holidays, while Beijing will continue to require reservations for famous sites such as the National Museum of China and the Palace Museum, which is housed in the Forbidden City.

    On Chinese social media, the announcements have attracted widespread support, with many users calling for more cities to cancel their online reservation policies. A related hashtag has received more than 20 million views on microblogging platform Weibo.

    Hu Dan, a 22-year-old university student from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, told Sixth Tone that she was delighted that online ticketing was being rolled back. In her experience, the systems were highly inconvenient.

    “When I planned to visit the museums in Nanjing during the May Day holiday, I couldn’t sleep properly for a week — I was waiting every day at dawn, then at 9 a.m., then at noon for the tickets to be released,” said Hu. “The release times were unpredictable and there were many people trying to get them.”

    Zhou Siting, a 23-year-old student from the eastern city of Nanjing, found the online ticketing systems were often unnecessary. When she visited the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum a few months ago, it took her days to reserve a ticket, but when she finally got to the site it wasn’t crowded at all.

    “Actually, the park is very large and some people leave after a short while,” said Zhou. “There were not many people inside.”

    Zhou also felt uncomfortable about the amount of personal information she was required to provide via the online ticketing platform. “Why do we need to fill in our phone numbers and ID numbers? It’s very troublesome,” she said.

    However, both Zhou and Hu agreed that it made sense for some highly popular venues — such as the Palace Museum — to require reservations, as otherwise they would be completely overrun by tourists.

    On Weibo, some users expressed anxiety that tourist attractions would become overcrowded after the online reservation systems were phased out. “I will feel more anxious and less willing to visit, fearing large crowds and a wasted trip,” one highly upvoted comment read.

    Yet there is widespread consensus that tourist venues need to take action against ticket scalpers. Since the mandatory reservation was introduced, scalpers have begun snapping up large numbers of tickets for popular venues, leaving ordinary visitors unable to make a booking.

    Entry to the campuses of Beijing’s prestigious Peking University and Tsinghua University is supposed to be free of charge. But scalpers sold visitor passes to the campuses for up to 500 yuan ($69) during public holidays, as many tourists were unable to secure a pass themselves.

    Similar issues have emerged at many other venues. In northwest China’s Shaanxi province, scalpers are reportedly reserving all the free entry passes to the Shaanxi History Museum and selling them on the secondary market for around 500 yuan. One Beijing tour guide told domestic media: “For the most popular attractions, a group has to spend an extra 1,000-2,000 yuan to get ticket scalpers to make reservations for them.”

    Yang Yanfeng, a professor of tourism at Beijing Union University, told domestic media that the key to solving the scalping problem is making more tickets available at major venues.

    “We should consider increasing the supply of tickets, such as by improving the management and extending the opening hours of tourist sites, rather than capping the number of slots all the time,” he said.

    Dai Bin, director of the China Tourism Academy, said that cities were scrapping mandatory reservation systems because most tourist venues simply do not have an overcrowding problem. However, some highly popular attractions may need to maintain some form of reservation system, he added.

    “It is necessary to avoid a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach,” Dai said. “Even if reservations are required, the systems should be refined to provide the greatest convenience to the public.”

    Additional reporting: Zhu Yingcui.

    (Header image: Tourists visit the Summer Palace in Beijing, July 7, 2024. VCG)