The National Tourism Administration has recently issued a document to support the legalization of tips in the tourism industry in China. In Western countries, tips are a tradition that is widely accepted, but in China, the public is not used to this concept, although the practice of giving tips has already been introduced to some popular tourism cities on a trial basis.
The underlying reason why this document has caught attention is that, generally, tour guides in China are not well paid. Some travel agencies even do not ensure basic wages or social security for the guides. As a result, tour guides, especially part-time ones, have to invent their own ways to make money. They can go as far as forcing tourists to buy souvenirs in certain shops so that they can get kickbacks. The guides tend to treat them terribly. There are also many other ways that tour guides use to draw money from tourists. Disputes and conflicts thus frequently arise between tourists and their guides. The tip system is expected to increase tourist guides' incomes in a legal manner so as to reduce forced shopping as well as disputes between the two parties.
Some believe tips are necessary, as tour guides in China are paid much less than they deserve, but others doubt the effectiveness of tips in helping boost tour guides' incomes and worry that it will increase tourists' traveling costs.
Zhang Fengyi (Xi'an Evening News): Amid various disputes and inconveniences existing in the tourism industry, the state hopes to make tip payment a system that will encourage tour guides to provide better services when they have higher and more stable incomes. However, whether this will really happen is quite doubtful. Anyway, tips are only desserts after a dinner, not the main course. Besides, we in China don't have the tradition of paying tips. Most consumers believe, after paying a certain amount of money to the travel agency, they deserve to be well served. They resist paying tips.
Almost half of the country's tour guides do this as a part-time job. Given fierce competition in the industry, travel agencies try to keep tour expenses as low as possible. They employ a large number of part-time tour guides, and these guides are very low paid. Tips are far from enough for them. When tips are given on free will, tourists can choose to pay or not. Once tips become a system, tourists will have to pay tips, or their tour guides will make the journey uncomfortable for them. Besides, possibilities remain that apart from collecting tips, some tour guides may continue to force tourists to shop.
Therefore, before tips are legalized, a pay system for tour guides is necessary to ensure them a basic income and a decent life. Only when these worries no longer exist can tips truly play a role of encouragement.
Zhu Dazhi (China Youth Daily): We worry that the legalization of tips will make a voluntary payment a compulsory system, adding to the cost of traveling. This worry is not groundless.
In the West, actually, there has been opposition against tips. Opponents see tips as an unhealthy habit and have called for their abolition, and some countries even have tried to set up a restrictive system to curb tips. The reason for the survival of the custom of giving tips is that many people in these countries feel thankful to those who offer excellent services and are willing to tip. Otherwise, they'll feel uneasy.
The Chinese society is not used to the practice of giving tips, and now it is planned that a system is to be set up to force people to give tips. This is not what tips are invented for. The priority now is not to push forward the tip system but to regulate and develop the tourism industry into a healthy sector and to let tour guides earn a payment that is at least equal to their work. When the tourism sector embraces sound development, even without a compulsory system, tourists tip the guides that offer them good services.
Shu Shengxiang (Beijing Youth Daily): Ideally, tips are paid to show respect and gratitude. In Western countries, although customers can choose to pay or not, giving tips has long been a common practice.
The current salary system in China's tourism sector is such a mess that a large number of tour guides don't have base pay or basic insurance. A percentage drawn from the sum tourists pay for souvenirs during the trip has almost become a major income source of tour guides. Forcing tourists to shop has become a hidden rule in the tourism sector, which has seriously damaged tourists' traveling experience and affected the long-term development of the tourism industry. It is against this backdrop that some travel agencies and local governments begin to seek to set up a tip system in the tourism industry, with the intention of dragging this industry out of the vicious cycle.
If tour guides can make money by asking tourists to buy souvenirs, they are likely to offer quality services on this precondition. However, once they are forbidden to accept kickbacks from shops and instead depend on tips, which are usually much lower than the brokerage given by souvenir shops, the service quality may deteriorate. Besides, it's quite possible that the guides will be comfortable with those who have paid them tips, while at the same time they will be harsh to those who have not done so. As a result, something supposed to be based on free will become compulsory.
Song Guifang (www.xinhuanet.com): Tips have been conventionally seen as illegal income. Relevant laws and regulations issued several years ago expressly forbid tour guides to ask for tips.
However, we have to realize that tour guides in China are struggling with their wages and social security falling far behind the rapid development of the tourism industry itself. Fierce competition in the industry is squeezing profit margins for travel agencies, which in turn have cut wages for tour guides. As a result, more and more qualified tour guides choose to leave this industry, leading to deteriorating service quality. If tour guides can expect payment that shows respect to their services, we can expect an overall improvement in the tourism industry.
In China, the public treats tips as an extra payment for certain service items, and thus there is resistance to tips. Given the conditions tour guides are now in, tips actually act as a kind of compensation to them, rather than bonuses. It sometimes happens that when we want to go to certain places to know more about local customs and scenic spots, we can't find a qualified tour guide. It's time to think of a way to make tour guides feel that their work is respected and that they don't need to exploit tourists to make a living. The legalization of tips may help solve the problem to some extent, but in the long run, we need to explore a new model for the sustainable development of the tourism industry.
Copyedited by Kylee McIntyre
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