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A friendlier Beijing
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The municipal authorities seem to have finally made up their mind to seriously do something about the city's chaotic day-tour market. This has been long overdue.

Beijing is among the most popular tourist destinations in China. The multitude of spots of cultural significance lends the city a timeless appeal to travelers from afar.

Except for those who are familiar with the city's quite decent public transport network, most travelers have to rely on the variety of day tours to visit most of its famous tourist attractions. In fact, day tours are so far the best way, especially for individual travelers on their first trip to the city, to appreciate what Beijing has to offer.

But taking a day tour is not always as easy or enjoyable as it should be.

Inadequacy of information is of course one of the difficulties. In spite of all the advertisements for day tours one can find on the Internet, in guide books, or on sign posts at bus stops, navigating the city's day tour market and finding the one that best suits your needs can be frustrating and exhausting at the same time.

Let alone strangers who may not know a thing about our language, even long-time local residents may have difficulty in finding the right place for information about some rather commonplace day tours. .

Of course many travelers come here with a rough idea of where to go. But once there, they can sometimes find things to be quite different.

We have had a constant feed of complaints from tourists about irresponsible or even dishonest day tour operators. In some extreme cases, tourists were taken to places other than their desired destinations, or even forced to buy "souvenirs" so their guides could take kickbacks.

It would not be fair to say the authorities have been indifferent. We have heard about calls and moves to install order and standards. But improvement has been surprisingly tardy over the years.

Given tourism's potential to be a major source of local revenues, this is truly bewildering.

Now that the authorities are beginning to do the clean-up - they have disqualified four tourist sites from the local day tour market for such offenses as cheating - we hope they can go far enough this time.

Such moves are not only essential for tourists' experiences in the city, but also for a healthy future for the local tourism industry.

It is not just for the upcoming Olympics that the city needs to take measures to make itself more tourist-friendly.

(China Daily June 9, 2008)

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