China’s first-ever tourism law—designed mostly to protect Chinese travelers—is now in effect

I think I got the shot.
I think I got the shot.
Image: Reuters/Carlo Cortes
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Tourism in China has grown at a breakneck pace in recent years—and so have reports of Chinese behaving badly overseas, with incidents including the defacing of monuments and the eating of rare wildlife. Now there are new rules for the industry, although they are designed more to protect tourists than keep them in line.

The Tourism Law of the People’s Republic of China, which goes into effect today, attempts to regulate China’s domestic tourism industry while laying out rules for growth. The law contains rules about how tour operators should do business and how states should plan development.

Tourism in China was worth 2.3 trillion yuan ($376 billion) last year, according to official figures—an increase of almost 18% from the year before. Domestic trips neared 3 billion in 2012, and Chinese tourists made more than 83 million overseas trips worth over $100 billion.

The barely-regulated industry was rife with opportunistic operators. Chinese tourists have frequently complained, for example, about so-called “forced shopping trips” in Hong Kong. These are tours where transportation and lodging are priced below cost, with tour operators attempting to recoup their expenses with tips and commissions from stores where the travelers shop. Tourists say they were bullied into shopping and tipping; some even say they were locked into stores if they didn’t purchase enough goods.

While the new law addresses tourists’ rights and tour operators’ proper conduct, it also directs local governments to set up tourism facilities near scenic areas in a responsible manner. And it asks tourist themselves to “behave” as well. The law states:

Tourists shall observe public order and respect social morality in tourism activities, respect local customs, cultural traditions and religious beliefs, care for tourism resources, protect the ecological environment, and abide by the norms of civilized tourist behaviors.

While there are specific fines and punishments laid out for unscrupulous tour operators, the law does not address what could happen to misbehaving tourists.