BEIJING - The quality of China's tourism industry needs improvement as the sector has seen a sharp increase in complaints, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences warned on Wednesday.
The Green Book of China's Tourism - an annual report published by the think tank - said that the number of complaints filed at the nation's tourism quality control institutions surged to 8,768 last year, up more than 15 percent from the previous year.
"The rate of complaints has maintained a relatively high level, which gave us pause despite last year's boom in the tourism market," said Liu Deqian, vice-director of the tourism research center at the academy and editor-in-chief of the book.
According to the academy, tourists have mostly found fault with domestic travel, which made up 86 percent of complaints.
Travel agencies are the major target of the criticism, followed by scenic spots and hotels, the report said.
The biggest complaints about travel agencies include the service not being as good as promised, tour guides who do less than they ought to, and activities that are forcibly added or subtracted from the original itinerary.
"We found that forced shopping has become a major reason (for complaints), which has caused many conflicts and led to distrust between agencies and tourists," Liu said.
Some tourists in low-fee tour groups have been forced to shop because tour operators need kickbacks to compensate for their losses from offering tours at a price lower than cost.
Last year, a video of mainland tourists being insulted and "forced to shop" by a local tour guide in Hong Kong sparked outrage on the Internet, which pushed mainland tourism authorities to take stricter measures to put the brakes on this trend.
On Thursday, a new rule was issued by the National Tourism Administration of China, which aims to regulate travel agencies' businesses by making responsibilities clearer.
According to the new rule, agencies that conduct forced shopping or similar activities are required to refund tourists as much as 20 percent of their total expenses for the trip.
If the number of organized shopping activities is more than agreed to in the contract or the period of shopping is extended beyond the agreed time, the punitive refund will be as much as 10 percent.
"The new regulation will help create a more transparent and healthy industry," Feng Yun, marketing director with China Travel Service, told China Daily.
She said that big agencies will benefit from the new move, as the market will automatically wash out unqualified small agencies and improve the quality of tourism services.
China will celebrate its first national tourism day on May 19.
"China is now a big tourism country with 2.1 billion domestic trips made last year, but the quality of tourism was not taken seriously enough," said Liu, who expected the upcoming special event to spotlight the issue.