Holiday Rush Sparks Safety Fears

Tourists flood major attractions during China's national holiday week.
2012-10-04
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Tourists crowd the Great Wall at Badaling near Beijing during the annual holiday week, Oct. 3, 2012.
ImagineChina

China's major tourist destinations are struggling to keep up with demand, as hundreds of millions of holidaymakers swamped popular attractions during the country's Golden Week holiday rush, sparking safety concerns.

The nation's highway system was jammed up as motorists took advantage of a waiver of highway tolls to visit tourist sites which were mostly overcrowded.

"The crowds were biggest on Oct. 2, 3, and 4," said a tourism industry worker at the Confucius Temple in the sage's hometown of Qufu in the eastern province of Shandong. "There were a lot of people in the [nearby] scenic attractions, and they all had to line up to buy tickets."

"There was overcrowding everywhere, and there toilets were full of people," said the worker, identified by her surname, Li. "People should wait a few days if they are thinking of coming here."

A second tourism worker at the Lushan Mountain scenic spot in eastern China's Jiangxi province said she had witnessed similar scenes in recent days, with local highways leading to the resort area gridlocked on Tuesday.

"People would be better off coming in a few days' time," said the worker, who gave only her surname, Zhang. "A lot of people who tried to get up the mountain ... gave up halfway and left."

"They couldn't get up [to the summit]," she said. "It took 3-4 hours by car."

Under pressure

She said the huge numbers arriving all at once had put local infrastructure under huge pressure.

"They should have put out a safety warning earlier," she said of the local authorities. "They should break up the influx of tourists; this would be much safer."

Official media reports said that more than 530 million Chinese had taken to the nations roads during the annual holiday, which begins with the National Day celebrations on Oct. 1. and lasts for a week.

Photos published by the official Xinhua news agency showed thousands lining up between metal barriers in a bid to reach the summit of Huangshan, in the eastern province of Anhui, with heavy crowds around ticket booths.

The agency urged people to behave "in a civilized manner" while out on their travels, saying the responsibility lay with all citizens to behave well, and according to "universal values" of individual responsibility and respect.

'Civilized behavior'

Analysts hit out at the commentary, saying its message was meaningless if the government did nothing to set an example to its citizens.

"The entire country is run without regard for the rules," said Liu Kaiming, head of the Institute of Contemporary Observation in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. "In the schools, it's just endless tests and exams; they seldom teach them anything about respect for social morals or civilized behavior."

"China doesn't lack high-tech know-how right now; we lack a basic level of civilization."

"We have all the laws, but their implementation is less than ideal," Liu said.

China had waived toll fees on its major highways over the holidays in a bid to ease massive congestion across its road systems this week, but this may have actually served to boost the numbers taking to their cars this year, Liu said.

Too many people

He said the overcrowding problem was caused by China's adoption of a salaried, national vacation system similar to developed economies like Japan and the EU.

Japan has higher population density than China, but many Japanese opted for overseas travel during their Golden Week holidays, Liu said.

"Chinese people are in the habit of visiting popular tourist attractions in large groups," Liu added. "[Elsewhere in the world], people see holidays as a time of rest."

A Shanghai resident surnamed Li, who is currently on holiday in Wuxi, said people were likely to want to congregate with their loved ones at tourist attractions.

"I saw that there were huge explosions of visitors at a lot of tourist attractions on the TV, and that these had led to some dangerous situations," she said. "There are just too many people."

Li said she had researched some of the less popular attractions for her holiday where visitor numbers weren't too high.

Retired Shandong University professor Sun Wenguang called on large employers to stagger the main annual holidays, easing the pressure on major attractions.

"Government officials are overly bureaucratic, and they don't think ahead about the difficulties they will encounter over the holiday period," he said.

"They just implement their own policies without paying attention to the opinions of the people."

Reported by Tang Qiwei and Gao Shan for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.