Indonesia

Safety of outbound passengers comes first


On August 15, 2023, at Nong Nooch Tropical Garden in Pattaya, Thailand, an elephant poured water on tourists. (Xinhua News Agency/Photo)

Scams, threats make Chinese tourists wary of parts of Southeast Asia

Chinese tourists heading overseas are looking for safe destinations after a video of an unscrupulous travel agency in Thailand threatening and abusing tourists sparked outrage online.

Their concerns have also grown amid reports of scams and kidnappings targeting tourists in the Southeast Asian country.

Recently, a short video released by several media platforms showed a tour guide threatening Chinese tourists on a Thai bus.

The excited Chinese-speaking female tour guide told the group that she was taking them to a store and threatened them: “Please be quiet, or I will say ‘kill you’ or let you get off the bus”. The male tourist stood up and protested to the female tourist, saying that the shopping trip was not on the itinerary, but the tour guide yelled at him, yelling “stop pretending”.

Outbound travel has grown steadily in recent months after the government eased COVID-19 control measures and travel restrictions earlier this year.

In February and March, 60 countries including Indonesia and Thailand resumed outbound and group tours. Thailand was the first choice for Chinese tourists before the epidemic.

On August 10, China announced the resumption of group tours in 78 other countries, including popular destinations such as Japan and the United Kingdom.

According to the latest data from the China Tourism Academy, in the first half of the year, the number of outbound tourists from mainland China was about 40.4 million, of which Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions were the first choices.

While tourists’ enthusiasm for outbound travel has been revived, there are also concerns about tourism products and their safety, especially group tours in Southeast Asian countries.

“Before the outbreak, I would go to Thailand once a year for vacation,” said a 34-year-old man surnamed Yang in Beijing.

“I had planned to travel there with my family in June, but I canceled the trip before departure. The stories people shared about their experiences with phone scams in the Southeast Asian country really scared me.

“In late April, there were news reports that a young Chinese couple was found dead in a hotel room in Bali.”

He added that he prefers to avoid group tours. In 2018, because he didn’t know how to apply for a tourist visa, he participated in group tours in Thailand and Japan. While the itinerary is good, the tour guide expects tourists to stop at designated shops. “Travelers are in a vulnerable position in the face of these conditions, especially in overseas destinations,” he said.

Fan Dongxiao, director of the after-sales department of online travel portal Tuniu, said the outbound travel market has seen incredible growth since March.

“However, in recent months, there have been multiple ‘black swan’ incidents in Southeast Asian destinations, which have shaken people’s confidence in outbound travel, leading to fluctuations in travel bookings on our platform,” Fan said.

However, she said travel companies see Southeast Asia as a healthy and safe travel environment and the destinations remain attractive due to easy visas and affordable travel prices. She said bookings on their platform have increased this summer and travelers are expected to feel confident traveling again soon.

Regarding the issue of unscrupulous tour guides, Fan said that tourists should choose qualified and licensed travel agencies to book, and be wary of low-priced tourism products.

“It is also important for travelers to be highly aware of their personal safety during travel,” she said, adding that they should preserve any evidence of unjust treatment that could be reported to authorities.

Xu Jing, a judge at the Dongcheng District People’s Court in Beijing, said that in the past three years, outbound tourism-related disputes accounted for about a quarter of all travel disputes heard by the court.

She used an overseas study tour as an example, which was a complicated case. “It may involve payment disputes such as tour fees, domestic education and training fees, and registration fees for overseas competitions,” she said.

Xu added that some travel agencies may have engaged in inappropriate or illegal acts such as “exaggerating to lure tourists, and arbitrarily changing the itinerary without the consent of tourists because they are not familiar with the route.”

She advises passengers to choose reputable large travel agencies, maintain awareness of risks and drive up prices, and avoid fluctuations.

“Relevant departments should also strengthen market supervision and conduct spot checks or regular inspections of travel agencies operating outbound travel business. Relevant departments can issue warnings and reminders to passengers, and blacklist travel agencies that violate laws and regulations to maintain market order.”



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