New law for China tourists kicks in on Oct 1

Tours sold in China must list all details on itinerary; bid to end 'zero-fare' trips

Tourists from China posing for a photograph with the Marina Bay Sands resort in the background. Local travel players have mixed reactions to
Tourists from China posing for a photograph with the Marina Bay Sands resort in the background. Local travel players have mixed reactions to

Local travel players have mixed reactions to China's new tourism law to enhance protection for travellers from the country, which takes effect on Oct 1.

While many have welcomed the changes as it could boost travel to Singapore, others felt otherwise as tours to the city-state are often packaged with other regional destinations, which may be affected by the new law.

The changes, made known to agencies here through circulars sent out last week, stipulate that tours sold in China for domestic and overseas travel clearly list itineraries, duration and details of transport, hotels and meals.

The law also puts a stop to "zero- or negative- fare tours" - a phenomenon that the local Chinese media has described as rampant in China.

These land tours target shoppers and are sold at or below cost to boost sales. But there is a catch - travellers are often forced to tip tour guides, pay more for add-on tours, or herded to designated shops and given the hard sell. Travel agencies then get kickbacks from shops or, in some instances, own them. Hotel stays are typically replaced with overnight coach rides to neighbouring countries.

Such tours are commonly offered for travel to places like Thailand, Yunnan and Hong Kong, said industry players here. When implemented, the law could result in higher prices for travel to these places.

A handful of agencies in Singapore also offer such shopping tours, added industry players. They sell them to Singapore- bound tourists in China through partner agencies there. A regular two-day, one- night tour in Singapore, excluding airfare, typically costs about $300.

National Association of Travel Agents Singapore chief operating officer Anita Tan hailed the changes. She said they will benefit professionally run local travel agents as they will help weed out black sheep here and elsewhere that are responsible for the "unreasonably" low-priced tours.

"Agencies which survive on such shopping tours have to change the way they operate or get out of the market," said Ms Tan. "This levels the playing field for our agents."

The impact from the new law cannot be underestimated as the number of Chinese tourists visiting Singapore - the second biggest group after Indonesians - has been growing rapidly in recent years.

Singapore Tourism Board figures show that Chinese visitors to Singapore had surged from nearly 940,000 in 2009 to a record 1,578,000 in 2011. In the first nine months of last year, there were 1,515,000 Chinese visitors - on track to beating 2011's record. The full-year figures for last year are yet to be released.

Major inbound travel agencies here - including Hong Thai Travel and Travcoach which have sales representatives in China - agree that the law will benefit Singapore as a standalone destination.

Hong Thai's director Alex Chan said: "Tourists always compare our prices to those of Thailand and Malaysia. They say ours is too high. This will narrow the (price) gap (for travel to Singapore)."

But some have questioned if the changes would mean fewer Chinese visitors to the region as a whole. Mr Chew Chong Choon, Travcoach's managing director, said: "Singapore tours are usually packaged with Thailand and Malaysia tours. If prices go up in those countries, then we will be more expensive and less attractive as a region."