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UPDATED: April 28, 2015 NO. 18 APRIL 30, 2015
Will a Blacklist Help Curb Chinese Travelers' Misbehavior?


In accordance with new China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) regulations, tourists will henceforth be blacklisted for a range of offences including damaging property, disrespecting local customs, vandalism of historical exhibits and engaging in activities related to gambling or pornography.

Records will be maintained within a two-tiered system, with provincial-level tourism authorities responsible for cases under their jurisdiction while the CNTA oversees a nationwide register. According to the regulations, travelers will be blacklisted for two years if they are found to have committed an offense en route to or in their holiday destinations. The regulations also stipulate that tourism authorities may report violations to public security, customs and transportation authorities, as well as the central bank's department for individual credit.

This comes amid growing concern about the uncouth ways of Chinese tourists at home and abroad. In 2013, a Chinese tourist was found writing his name on a relief carving in Egypt's Luxor Temple. In the following year, a Chinese passenger threw instant noodles at an attendant on an international flight. These are but two examples, albeit extreme ones, of the endemic tourist misbehavior. With more Chinese choosing to travel globally and within their own country during holiday periods, curbing such misbehavior is a pressing matter.

Some believe the CNTA's new regulations will help deter impolite behavior, as inclusion on the blacklist will impact their activities in many other areas. Doubts, however, exist as to the efficacy of this blacklist in remedying untoward tourist conduct. Some argue that the new regulations won't succeed owing to a lack of coordination between different authorities. Others believe that while anti-social behavior should be reined in, entities like travel agencies should also be held accountable for their own irresponsible practices.

Rage against rage

Chen Fang (The Beijing Times): This is not the first time that regulations of this nature were issued. Since the Tourism Law took effect in 2013, superficially at least, tourists have been legally obligated to behave properly. Various instruction guides and pamphlets are encountered in tourist areas. Even in other countries, measures are employed to raise the standard of tourist behavior. In the 1960s, for instance, Japan published etiquette guides in cartoon form to educate its population on how to behave properly when traveling abroad. As a result of over five decades' efforts, Japanese tourists are now found to be much more amiable in various respects when traversing the globe.

Compared with previous guides consisting mostly of advice, the new regulations are more detailed in their instruction and more severe in the penalties they outline. As for tourists who engage in misconduct after repeated warnings, such violations will result in their access to many important services being blocked. These tough regulations are in fact a measure of last resort resulting from the almost unbearably boorish behavior of some of Chinese tourists. When mild admonishment does not work, rigid regulations have to be introduced.

The blacklist means to deter potential violators. It's also hoped that it will foster a sense of shame among tourists. Tourism now represents a luxury product of sorts. It seems that many still don't understand the essential purpose of tourism, or its wider significance. Tourism represents a vehicle to broaden one's mind and improve one's understanding of the culture and customs of a place, aside from appreciating its scenery. However, the overseas misconduct of Chinese travelers implies that too many still view tourism simply as "having fun" or as a status symbol: "Look at me. I've been abroad!" Tourists that truly understand the essence of traveling will act responsibly from the bottom of their heart.

It is also important to identify the underlying causes of misbehavior. Sometimes, tourists behave poorly not out of a lack of consideration for others, but because their legitimate rights are not being respected. The blacklist is intended to act as a deterrent, but at the same time it should not endanger or infringe upon tourists' legitimate interests.

Liu Simin (Guangzhou Daily): It is widely recognized that the poor behavior of tourists will negatively affect the nation's image across the rest of the world, and thus all are eager to see some headway being made so as to improve China's reputation on the world stage. The new regulations represent an active response to such wishes.

Apart from rigid regulations, it's also essential to provide more educational resources and furnish tourists with more guidance as to how one's behavior actually is a reflection of their intrinsic character. People need to be educated on good travel etiquette as early as kindergarten, with schools and families getting involved. As for adults, the media and the whole of society need to focus on tourists' behavior domestically and internationally, and provide them with positive and helpful counsel.

Wang Wenwu (Beijing Morning Post): The tourist blacklist may prove a more effective method of correcting unacceptable behavior than doling out fines. Though some may feel uneasy concerning the regulations, the measure will prove an instructive experiment as regards how to truly change tourist behavior for the better. The blacklist touches on many areas. Since the Chinese are generally concerned with saving face, they are likely to curtail some bad habits lest they become blacklisted.

More needs to be done

Lian Hongxiang (Guangzhou Daily): It is hoped that the new regulations will deter tourists from partaking in inappropriate behavior, but many are not optimistic. Before a tourist is blacklisted, there should be a process of collecting information on them and this could be accomplished only through coordination with other parties such as public security bureaus and financial departments. However, given that this blacklist is the tourism authorities' initiative, it's doubtful that other authorities would cooperate in dealing with the issues. Take banks for example. As long as customers are capable of paying back their loans in time, they will offer credit regardless of how their clients behave when traveling.

Also, getting down to specifics, exactly what kind of bad behavior will qualify tourists' inclusion on the blacklist has not been made clear. Do the relevant offences include littering, spitting or other misdemeanors? If tourists are blacklisted for such trivial offences, are these measures not going too far? Needless to say, we welcome regulations to curb bad tourist behavior, but these regulations must be viable.

Liu Sunheng (Beijing Morning Post): It seems that the new regulations place the blame squarely at the feet of tourists. However, we must hold an objective view of this issue. Sometimes, improper behavior does not owe to the so-called "poor character" of the tourists.

The most typical example of an instance where tourists should not be held responsible for their ill manners is the situation where in order to make money, tourist venues admit more tourists than their capacity allows, disregarding the limits in place. Overcrowding and chaos generally ensue.

Since there is a blacklist for wayward tourists, there should also be a blacklist for wayward tourist venues. Otherwise, a fundamental overall improvement in tourist behavior is not very foreseeable.

Liao Baoping (China Youth Daily): This is a well-intentioned system, but I want to point out that some are at a disadvantage when traveling to unfamiliar places. Tourists sometimes behave poorly because of the poor quality of service they receive from travel agencies, hotels or tourist venues. They find themselves in circumstances where their legitimate consumer rights have been violated and their basic requirements not met.

Keeping tabs on bad tourist behavior is important, but it is nonetheless vital to police travel agencies, hotels and tourist venues that offer poor-quality services. People tend to be influenced by their environment and they might behave quite differently under different conditions. If they are amply looked after throughout their travels, they are more likely to behave themselves than if poorly treated. In some cases, tourists are defrauded by travel agencies and hence conflicts occur. Under such stressful conditions, tourists understandably tend to behave rudely.

The Tourism Law demands that tourist guides explain the standards for proper behavior before the group traveling embarks on a journey. It's unfair to put the blame totally on tourists when guides do not take responsibility for their charges and in some cases, even contribute to their poor behavior. In 2012, the CNTA rolled out a similar blacklist system, to define and enforce good practices for travel agencies, hotels and tour operators. How many, may we ask, of these entities have been put on the blacklist till now?

The rules of the market should apply equally across the board. Those in positions of privilege, in particular, should act in strict accordance with rules. In a scenario where the relatively lowly members of society are punished for misconduct whereas the powerful get off scot-free for the same actions, we cannot expect improvements in how tourists present themselves. We need to lead by example. 

Copyedited by Eric Daly

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