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Lijiang vendors strike, protesting old town entry fee

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The center of Yunnan's number one tourist destination came to a standstill late last week, as more than 1,000 retailers and hoteliers in Lijiang simultaneously refused to open their shops. The work stoppage, according to online reports, was staged in protest of an increasingly well-enforced old town admission fee vendors claim is inadvertently crippling local business.

The strike began on June 1, and while most shops operating in the UNESCO World Heritage Site only stayed closed until noon, several dozen others refused to open for three days. In reaction, many tourists instead visited nearby towns such as Baisha (白沙) and Shuhe (束河). The shutdown obviously affected those visiting Lijiang, but was actually undertaken in an effort to support them, say locals.

Lijiang charges an 80 yuan "maintenance fee" to all people visiting the old town — more commonly referred to as Dayan (大研). In years past, bypassing the charge was relatively easy if tourists knew which gates to use. However, ticket sellers and the local government have clamped down over the past year, making the levy payment mandatory.

To avoid this cost, many people, especially those on package tours, stay away from Dayan entirely until the ticket takers go home for the evening around 6pm. This gives store and restaurant owners — who often pay extravagant rent — only a very small window in which to do business each day. Exacerbating the situation are widely circulated rumors the old town fee will rise to 120 yuan beginning June 20.

Local business owners who participated in the strike say the charge, as well as the new-found aggressiveness with which it is enforced, has led to an enormous loss of business. One anonymous hostel owner explained that her once-profitable guesthouse was running a loss of 120,000 yuan over the past nine months. She blamed her circumstances on the old town entry fee, saying her involvement in the general strike "was a necessary step".

For its part, the municipal government says the ticketing system is vital for an assortment of reasons, including infrastructure projects, general upkeep, fire protection and other beautification outlays. In 2015, the city collected more than 2.77 billion yuan (US$433 million) from ticket sales, indicating more than 36 million people paid to enter the old town. Nonetheless, the city of Lijiang has reportedly taken out loans totaling some 3.9 billion yuan (US$594 million) to cover maintenance costs.

With all sides suffering — gouged tourists, cash-strapped shop owners and a bankrupt municipal fund alike — it appears a drastic overhaul of the system is necessary. Wang Xinbing, a tourism industry expert at Beijing International Studies University, told reporters, "The town would be better advised to adopt an alternative approach, by checking for loopholes in the tax [system] caused by the previously lax controls of the local administration."

Image: Loewe via Wikimedia

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Greed which way HFCAMPO? The local government imposing the 80 kuai charge, local businesses or both?

I've been to Huangyao Guzhen in Guangxi a couple of times now. It's 100 kuai a ticket to get in there. IF the money gets spent on the infrastructure & renovations/repairs then find. Big problem is if it gets siphoned away elsewhere.....

numbers dont add up. $433m buys a hell of a lot of maintenace, specially with china labor costs. where is the money going?

Next line down claims they've borrowed $594m to pay maintenance costs. That's a lot of hong bao on contracts ;-)

Sounds like that was a nice day to visit Dayan...

thats like more than a few mill for every km of road and buildings

Chinese local governments can't levy property taxes like, for example, in the UK and they don't have local income taxes either. So they raise money from land sales and from all sorts of arbitrary charges like high priced tickets to scenic spots. There should have been some sort of property tax years ago in China. Might have slowed down the housing bubble.

Local government does battle with entrenched Dongbei Mafia?

The strike sounds like a good idea. I also seems that local income taxes would be a good idea in China, although I'm sure they'd be really hard to enforce.

Property taxes would be easy to enforce, as there is a registered owner(s), and may help get rid of a lot of zombie properties. We know a guy who owns over 30 properties, well at least his company does. All of these properties are empty. Companies have these 'assets' on the books often at optimistic values. A company owns a house where we are. They want about 30% over market value for it, only then will they sell.

People may think, 'Zombie property, so what?'. If an area has low occupancy, no small businesses can flourish, and the local economy can be in a downward spiral.
If people/companies have to pay tax on empty property it becomes a liability as well as an asset. It is also possible to charge a higher levy on empty property, if a government chooses to do so. They are talking about doing this in London.

Back on topic. The local business can make their feelings known this way. But in the long run, the government knows that these business owners are ultimately hurting themselves more. It is a catch 22 situation.

I take your point, but strikes have been known to produce results.

Tourists are Consumers; Consumers follow trends.

Trends can be represented on a graph; the positive curve, the peak, the down curve.

These curves (+or-) take years to establish, based on hearsay from repeat consumer feedback returning from a trip compared to retail which is an afternoon.

The Lijiang business community has been lagging far behind the actual curves.

The actual curve for Lijiang old town has been on the down curve for approx 5 years, parallel to the surrounding villages of Baisha, Shuhe which have been on the positive curve for the last 5 years.

A combination of inexperience, greed, lack of planning, complacency, and not knowing their consumer trend curve is imploding quickly on their gold mine.

It's not unique in China, nor the world.
Funny thing, we saw the peak 10 years ago but they never listen, as usual.

Tiger Tiger...spot on..
Companies have these 'assets' on the books often at optimistic values.

Optimistic values= hoping the positive curve continues.

People may think, 'Zombie property, so what?'

Never experiencing a long term down curve.

it used to be that you were exempt from the entrance fee if you had a hotel/hostel booking within the 'old' town. Is that no longer the case?

Whilst I agree with lowering the entrance fee to something like 30-50rmb, I don't have much sympathy with the retailers/hostels/bars inside Lijiang, who have basically ruined a beautiful town with their blaring music, crap hand drumming, and IDENTICAL products for sale everywhere. Have some originality!

They're catering to what a great number of tourists want, I'm afraid.

I don't have much sympathy for the shop owners. I agree with Haali, Mike and Tiger.

They sell cheap taobao, crap for up to 500% its value, most stuff has nothing to do with Lijiang and 5 drum shops on 200meters of road is a bit overkill.

None of the stuff ever sold in China, is by customer demand. Some Dongbei bloke, thinks Lijiang needs fake African drums, and shiny toy drones, so they open 60 shops in the old town, because they have money. And think the more annoying, loud and screamy advertisement you have the more people buy.

All others investors, due to lack of creativity, will open shops with the exact same product, in 30 shops of their own, in Chinese, then it's called cultural preservation. No shop owner in Lijiang is local. The locals all rent out, cause they can make tons of money. They don't give a crap. If you own property in the old town, you are rich.

Lijiang and Dali = greed, from all sides.

The tourists buy the crap that is offered, cos they have no idea, what is local culture....hence China not having any real culture left, after the Revolution....

So welcome to Yunnan Disneyland.

For all I care, charge 500RMB each time you enter the old town, 1000RMB if you must.
Let the shops go out of business, I rather see a run down but original old town, than that freak show.

I don't go there anyway, I rather go to small village guesthouses, in the area, and spend my money on hiking, good local food and relaxation, rather then squeezing through million of tourists, on roads that are barely big enough to let squirrels pass.

Lijiang and Dali were once really beautiful spots. Now they are just money laundering and cash mills. The real China is never found in touristy old town.

If you mean 'None of the stuff ever sold in LIJIANG is by customer demand', I'd suggest it does get customer acceptance, because when you go somewhere you have to buy some crap, and the crap on sale is apparently acceptable. And the lack of local shopkeepers is indeed a profit ripoff from the local culture. Most of the tourists are not really interested in local culture, but only in what they would like to believe is local culture - and even most of them know they are getting lied to.
However, there is no society without culture, Revolution or no. Lijiang is, pretty much, Chinese tourist culture. 'The real China' is a bit vague, but Chinese tourist culture is part of it.


"I'd suggest it does get customer acceptance," ...... "and the crap on sale is apparently acceptable."

Chinese will accept anything and endure anything, but, it doesn't mean they found value/fun in it, so they won't return.

I think the proof is in the surrounding villages, which tend to be a little more original and less crowded. A slower growing curve perhaps?? A positive trend which the village admin may or may not comprehend and learn from other's mistakes.

Tourism isn't retail.

In retail you know what the client liked because you sold it, the store experience was secondary.
Tourism "is" the experience, the appeal of the whole. The trinkets purchased is an afterthought.

Shaxi (Sideng old town)is an example for many to study.

Sideng is on a solid + growth curve. It's attraction to tourist is a historic look and traditional/original laid back feel. This appeal won't change in the middle of their growth curve because they have a solid plan; unlike Lijiang which transformed itself out of it's appeal in the middle of their growth curve .
The future of Sideng.
The growth has to stop at one point with the eventual crowds and competition of the surrounding villages which are developing rapidly..

Sideng old town will eventually lose some of their tourists because tourists like to explore; but, it will stay ahead of other villages in the Shaxi valley because Sideng's reputation will remain positive. positive hearsay will create new customers.
The big picture..

It's all growth for the valley, it's all good. It creates a valley of villages which compliment each other, unlike Lijiang old town which has a bad reputation, now worsening the reputation with more fees...

I was amazed at the number of foreigners in Shaxi, so much so, during May holiday, my paraglide clients, which i brought to Shaxi met by coincidence their shanghai neighbours!! which are also foreigners....

The moment something is registered as UNESCO, the place is leached. UNESCO and government both take part of the pot. Never expected to pay $16 to see a ruin that wasn't even maintained with unsafe pathways (not Lijang). UNESCO, just like UNICEF are UN progams, so just do the math. 49.9% for one, 49.9% for the other, 0.1% for the safety-ribbon, and 0.1% for the water-based paint.

49.9% of what? Are you talking about UN programs sucking up money? I don't think that's really the nature of the problem.

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