Mismanagement vs bad habits in China, 3-km-long beach littering in Sanya
A section of the Great Wall at Badaling in the suburbs of Beijing was one of the most crowded scenic spots in China during the National Day holiday. Provided to China Daily
Left: The desert in Northwest China’s Gansu province is no longer an isolated place. Provided to China Daily
Right: A cleaner collects garbage at the Great Wall at Badaling. Zhu Xingxin / China Daily
3-km-long beach littering in Sanya
Traffic jams and overcrowded sites leave many feeling they hit a dead end during the holiday, report Jiang Xueqing and Hu Yongqi in Beijing.
Crawling along at just a few kilometers an hour, Jiang Qian, a 25-year-old tour guide, and her group of 49, were trapped in a traffic jam for more than 18 hours on Oct 3. They were traveling from Kunming in Yunnan province to Lijiang, a well-known regional tourist spot.
Vehicles carrying tourists from across the country packed the mountain road, making it a huge parking lot, said Jiang. With no stores or bathrooms en route, people were famished and were forced to "do their business in bushes on the side of the road".
Instead of arriving at Lijiang at 8 pm, the group finally made it to their destination at 4 am the following morning.
"People kept complaining, saying they wouldn’t have come if we’d warned them about the traffic," said Jiang, who lost her voice explaining the situation to angry tourists. "We had no idea the traffic would be that bad."
Jiang said she had fewer customers than last year and most of the vehicles on the road were private cars. Some had traveled from Guizhou and Sichuan, and even further afield, from Heilongjiang province.
"I have been traveling this route for five years, and have never seen worse," she said.
The nation’s roads were toll-free for the first time during the National Day holiday, from Sept 30 to Oct 7, for vehicles of seven seats or fewer. The new policy prompted many to take to the roads, but eventually the long delays caused chaos.
According to the China Highway Information Service, eight major expressways were still jammed on Oct 7, when the holiday officially ended. Experts said the traffic and tourism authorities should learn the lesson and be better prepared in future.
Sleep in the car
Jiang said her group waited in line for 10 hours to visit Yulong Mountain, the most famous tourist spot in Yunnan. "They waited so long, but in the end they didn’t have the time or space to stop to take a good look at the snowcapped peak. Crowd surges forced them to move on," she said.
The massive influx of visitors prompted hoteliers to hike their room prices, from the usual 70 yuan ($11) per night to 1,100 yuan, she said. Many people had to sleep in their cars.
Yu Haijun, a 55-year-old from Heilongjiang province, complained that her trip to Beijing had been a mistake: "I could barely move for the crowds at Tian’anmen Square. I had to wait 30 minutes to use the bathroom or to buy overpriced drinking water," she said. "I gave up on visiting the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. It wasn’t sightseeing it was people-seeing."
Visitor numbers to the Forbidden City reached a record 182,000 on Oct 2. The same day saw thousands of tourists stranded at a cable car station on Huashan Mountain in Shaanxi province. Many visitors demanded a refund after waiting in line for more than three hours to no avail.
The wave of tourists left civic administrators under huge pressure, and by the end of Sept 30 about 50 metric tons of garbage had been left on a 3-km-long beach in Sanya, Hainan province.
Road to nowhere
Because of previous problems buying train tickets for his trip home, Cai Zhigang, a 36-year-old travel agency manager in Shanghai, was excited about the toll-free policy that would save him about 500 yuan in fees.
Hundreds of cars were already in line when Cai and his wife arrived at a tollgate for the expressway to his hometown of Anqing, Anhui province, at 11 pm on Sept 29, one hour before the toll-free policy came into force. It was slow going and he only moved around 20 km in two hours. Finally, after five hours in the queue, they got through the tollgate.
By dusk the following day, Cai and his wife were only halfway to their destination and the traffic was still moving at a snail’s pace. Cai decided to leave the expressway and turned on to the nearest national highway, but soon realized that repair work was underway and was forced to make a detour and use yet another highway. However, the journey still took another 10 hours and the couple finally arrived in Anqing a day later than planned.
"It was a nightmare. I underestimated how many cars would be out there," said Cai, who was so unnerved by the experience that he and his wife returned to Shanghai two days earlier than scheduled.
Ma Hui, planned to take a bullet train from her home in Dongguan, Guangdong province, to Guangzhou and then catch another train to Kunming on Sept 29.
Keeping to her usual practice, Ma arrived at the local railway station to buy her ticket two hours before the scheduled departure of the train she planned to take. She felt she had left enough time, because the journey only takes around 25 minutes and trains run every quarter of an hour.
"I can always buy the ticket directly at the station. Even during the National Day holiday, I thought I could get a standing ticket at worst," she said.
However, when she got to the ticket office, there wasn’t a train available for five hours. Despite having originally dismissed the idea of road travel for fear of congestion, Ma decided to take a cab to Guangzhou. The driver managed to find a relatively clear route and drove at about 100 km per hour, ignoring the speed limit of 80. The journey took around 60 minutes.
However, Ma’s problems didn’t end there, "The train was leaving in five minutes and the gate had closed," said Ma.
Fortunately, Ma was able to buy a ticket for the following day, although she was put to the expense of staying in Guangzhou overnight.
Meanwhile, 13,000 people were stranded at a station in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province, on the last working day before the holiday, according to reports in the local Chutian Metropolis Daily newspaper.
Too few holidays
Why were the roads so crowded? The lack of holidays in China might be to blame. Employees in China, Canada, the Philippines and the United States have the least generous holiday entitlement among statutory employees in 62 countries and regions surveyed for a 2011 report by Mercer, a global human resources consultancy.
Chinese employees are entitled to one paid five-day vacation if they have worked for one to 10 years. Those who have worked for 10 to 20 years are allocated 10 days of paid vacation. That low allocation often means that people are desperate to make full use of their time off.
China was ranked 59 in the Mercer list, just ahead of Thailand, the Philippines and the US. By contrast, workers in the UK enjoy 28 days of statutory leave per annum, while those in Poland get 26 days, according to the Mercer report.
Poor highway design and changes to the pattern and number of holidays are also to blame. Zhang Lingyun, vice-dean of the Tourism Institute at Beijing Union University, said that many years ago he predicted that the roads would become a major mode of travel, but the highway administration bureaus failed to anticipate the high level of demand and so the roads were not designed to accommodate such high traffic volumes.
"Those who travel by car can be flexible in their plans. That makes it extremely difficult for tourist attractions to estimate and control the volume of visitors during the holiday," he said.
In 2008, the seven-day Labor Day holiday was replaced with four shorter breaks, meaning that Chinese workers now have only two seven-day holidays each year, the National Day holiday and Chinese New Year.
As New Year is traditionally a time for family reunions, people naturally use the National Day holiday to undertake trips lasting longer than two or three days.
"It was a bad decision to replace the Labor Day holiday with shorter holidays," said Zhang. "May is a very good season for traveling, but New Year is not, because of family traditions and the cold weather. So there’s only one option left for sightseeing – the National Day holiday."
With the Labor Day holiday trimmed to just three days, people are forced to visit major tourist attractions during peak season. Many parks and scenic areas – even those where the views and facilities are not very good – take the opportunity to raise the prices of tickets, food and accommodation, he added.
"Tourist attraction managers only care about profits. They are happy to see people rushing to them, as long as that doesn’t cause any accidents," said Zhang. "However, we can’t blame them because this is a once-in-a-year opportunity to make big money."
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