To tip or not to tip? Well, it's not a straightforward question in China, where tipping is basically non-existent.
That is why Guangdong China Travel Service sparked a public debate when it introduced a tipping system in its domestic package tours on Monday.
Wang Jian, a senior manager with the company, defended the decision, insisting that it "is the result of today's competitive market.
"It is a way to increase tour guides' incomes when the company's profits are low."
Holidaymakers are being encouraged to tip the tour guide 20 yuan (US$2.4) per day if they are satisfied with the service.
"It is on a totally voluntary basis," Wang emphasized.
"The guest is always free to tip and decide how much to give," he added.
A regulation issued by National Tourism Administration in 1990 said asking for tips is prohibited, according to Wang.
But if the guest is willing to offer a tip to show their appreciation for excellent service, it should be another story, Wang said.
"Tipping is, of course, always appreciated," said Li, a tour guide in East China's Fujian Province. "Frankly speaking, we receive tips from foreign guests, but there are very few from domestic tourists."
Li explained that her income is paid in three ways - the basic salary from the travel service, a subsidy for guiding tourist groups and commission souvenirs from shops she takes her tourist groups to.
In pursuit of excellent service, Wang Jian said, proper tipping is acceptable because it can stop the phenomenon of unnecessary shopping.
"I will be very glad to offer generous tips to my tour guide if he can meet my real need and wishes rather than taking me to numerous shops which I really hate to go to," said Yin Yu, 25, an employee of China International Trust and Investment Corporation Group.
She said it is worth tipping slightly over the odds as this establishes loyalty and means that the service staff, being pleased by the tip, will put more effort and care into their work.
But Yin Ping, a media worker in Beijing said she has no habit of tipping. She said there is no such tradition in China and the tour guide is responsible to offer good quality anyway, rather than having to be encouraged by tips.
But Wan Yiwei, manager of the Capital Travel Service affiliated with China Travel Service in Beijing, begged to differ.
He said that the introduction of a tipping system "is a practical and progressive action."
There is no specific regulation in China about accepting tips and his agency has no planning to take such action at this point, he said. "There are still some problems, such as how the tips will be taxed," he added.
"I always tip my Chinese tour guide when I travel around China," said Walter Chang, 62, an accountant from Hawaii.
"It is not only because of their satisfactory service but also because this is etiquette," Chang said.
An online survey conducted by Sohu.com and the Beijing Morning Post showed that by Friday's 57.88 percent of respondents disagreed with tipping, but about half of those surveyed believe that tipping will improve the quality of the service.
(China Daily August 21, 2004)