Foreign Travel Agents Seek Discounts, Chinese Promotion Help
BEIJING (AP) _ Foreign travel agents have urged China to end martial law in Beijing, lower prices and mount a public relations campaign abroad if it wants to lure back tourists scared by the crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
One after another, travel agents told Chinese tour officials Thursday their ideas for salvaging what both sides had expected to be a lucrative summer season.
″We need very practical solutions and we need them very quickly,″ said Peter Spreadborough of Silk Route Travel in Melbourn, Australia. ″We may have lost the entire 1989-90 program. We’ve invested heavily in promoting China. The return will be zero for most of us.″
His suggestion, echoed by many other agents, was for China to invest in overseas tour promotions, something China does not normally do.
″They want people to come in - they have to go outside,″ Spreadborough said. ″Our problem is destination credibility. We know it’s safe but until there is some sizeable effort from big guns in Chinese tourism, we’re fighting an uphill battle.″
Ken Chang of Pacific Delight Tours in Hong Kong, said his company lost hundreds of thousands of dollars on promotional material for now-canceled China tours.
″We want our Chinese friends to share the risk and the profit,″ he said, calling on China to help fund an advertising campaign.
Some travel agents said they still planned to bring in groups in September, although July and August tours were canceled. Patrick Woo of Amerasia Travel in Washington predicted that if the Chinese get 30 percent of what they had last year, ″they’ll be in good shape.″
More than 4.3 million tourists visited China in 1988 on organized tours alone, and several times that many are estimated to have come individually. China reaped $2.2 billion in hard currency in a major boost to the country’s development program.
But since the army shot its way into Beijing on June 3-4, killing hundreds and possibly thousands of civilians, tourism has nearly halted. When 16 foreigners arrived in the eastern province of Jiangxi on Thursday, local officials gave them a ceremony and welcomed them as the first foreign visitors in two months, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
China decided two weeks ago take emergency action, and invited about 400 tour agents from Hong Kong, Japan, Canada, the United States and other countries for a two-day, all-expenses-paid seminar.
At the conference’s end, the director of the Beijing Tourism Administration, Bo Xicheng, promised that China would give 20 percent discounts to foreign tour groups ″in the near future or at least before the end of the year,″ Xinhua said.
Some cities’ branch offices of the national tour agency also have announced price cuts, according to the Toronto-based Travel China Newsletter. Individual hotels in Beijing have begun charging their off-season rates.
However, under an austerity program imposed by the government to counter inflation and other economic problems, China’s state-run tour organizations may not have the money to conduct the large-scale promotion the agents demanded.
Instead, they concentrated on winning over the travel agents. Tour workers from Beijing and other cities pressed their name cards and glossy brochures into as many hands as possible, and some gave out gifts of sandalwood fans and tea.
The Chinese also handed out political promotional material: copies of a government report that condemned the student-led protests and booklets with pictures of soldiers’ burned and beaten bodies.
For $8, the tour agents could buy a government videotape called ″The True Story of the Turmoil,″ with footage of civilians attacking soldiers. The video, a compilation of footage shown on Chinese TV, does not show any violence by soldiers against civilians.
Some tour agents defended China’s action, while others privately expressed anger and sorrow. But all agreed that China must either lift martial law or reduce the military presence before large numbers of tourists will return.
One suggested putting soldiers on the streets only at night. Henry Wong of Holi Asia Tours in San Francisco said soldiers should be told to take their fingers off rifle triggers and ″smoke a cigarette or drink a Coke in order to ease the tense situation.″
Added Australia’s Spreadborough: ″Australians find it unacceptable for soldiers to have guns on the street. It makes them jittery. Australians are used to taking vacations on beaches, and you don’t find men with guns on beaches.″