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Admission prices affect business in Lijiang Ancient Town

2016-06-06 Editor: Li Yan

Thousands of business people closed their stores at day time last Wednesday in Lijiang Ancient Town, Yunnan Province, signaling a gesture of protest against the local administration's practice of charging for entrance tickets to the famously well-preserved old town.

Some store owners resumed business at about 11:00 a.m. on that day following lobbying of the local administration, which vowed to launch a legal investigation on those who led and instigated the strike of local business owners.

With the approval of the provincial government in Yunnan, Lijiang Ancient Town started to charge for entrance tickets to finance the maintenance of the town in 2001. Before March 2007, with a cost of 20 yuan (US$3) per person, people could walk around the town with no extra charge. Afterwards, the price surged to 80 yuan per person. But visitors could dodge paying for the admission by taking other entrances.

It was not until last year that the administration started to tighten control over entrance. "Nowadays, every pass is watched by a gatekeeper who asks tourists to pay for a ticket," said a local businessman who sells jade in the town.

"As a result, the charge drove away tourists and led to a sharp decline in tourism," a local handicraft store owner said in an interview with the Beijing News.

Many tourists disagreeing with the charge gave up their plans to visit, which led to considerable losses for local groceries and souvenir stores.

Some stores only garnered 900 yuan each over a period of 10 days, a local businessman said.

According to the regulation for the protection of Lijiang Ancient Town, the local administration established by the Lijiang City Government is empowered to charge the tourists for maintenance reasons.

When talking about the losses of local businesses, Wu, a department director of the local administration, said, it remains unclear that the losses of some businesses among the approximately 4,000 entities inside the five-square-kilometer town are the result of the charges of entrance tickets.

However, the impressions of visitors and guides told a different story.

A visitor surnamed Qiu showed her yellow 80 yuan ticket for Lijiang Ancient Town online. She visited there on May 28, witnessing the change compared to her previous trip.

"Last year, when I came to Lijiang, there were not enough berths for vehicles in the parking lot, however, in my last visit I saw visitors choosing to leave the entrance site once they finish taking photos," Qiu said.

A tourist guide surnamed Wu said the rising charge of the entrance ticket which drives up tourists' spending costs has indeed affected the visits as people in the neighborhoods may choose less expensive towns with similar scenic spots.

The dilemma of entrance charge is not a case that solely troubles Lijiang. In 2013, another ancient town, Phoenix Town in Hunan Province, started to sell tickets, sparking a controversial public debate on whether the ancient town should impose charges for visitors.

At that time, local media in Yunnan ironically touted that compared to Phoenix Ancient Town, the Lijiang tourist site had set no fences for tourists who may enter the town many times in one day without interventions.

Three years later, the fences have sprouted up in Lijiang.

By 2015, revenues for maintenance use surpassed 2.77 billion yuan in addition to a loan amassing to 3.9 billion yuan. About 6.6 billion yuan is used for preserving and protecting the ancient look of the town, including the construction of infrastructure, the restoration of old buildings, dismantling illegal architecture and moving cable lines underground. There is still an outstanding debt of approximately 1.57 billion yuan.

"It has more than once been proved that entrance tickets can hardly become a reliable source for local government revenues," said Wang Xinbing, a senior expert in the tourism industry at Beijing International Studies University.

"The town would be better advised to adopt an alternative approach by checking for loopholes in the taxes caused by the previously relaxed control of the local administration. But the levies which test the wisdom of the local administration should be varied in accordance with the sizes and types of the local stores," Wang said.


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