Can Pre-Booked Visits to Tourist Sites Become the New Normal?

2020-05-21 10:04:55 《Beijing Review》 2020年21期

During the recent May Day holiday, China saw a strong rebound in the tourism sector, with 115 million domestic tourists fl ocking to attractions nationwide. Promoted as a part of measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), reservations were required for prospective visitors by more than 80 percent of the countrys major scenic sites, via official websites, social media apps like WeChat or third-party platforms. Daily caps on the number of visitors were imposed at these sites, particularly in cities rich in historical and cultural attractions such as Beijing and Xian in the northwestern province of Shaanxi.

After the COVID-19 outbreak was brought under control, tourist destinations across China have reopened in phases since February. In mid-April, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the National Health Commission jointly issued a document demanding that scenic spots improve their online booking systems. Sites are also required not to let the number of visitors exceed 30 percent of capacity at any time.

In addition, the document said scenic spots should make arrangements to ensure tourist arrivals are staggered. Online booking has thus become a mechanism for scenic spots to regulate tourist fl ow during the pandemic and enhance the experience of visitors.

For many years, Chinese tourists have had diffi culty booking hotels, fi nding parking spots and locating food when visiting domestic scenic spots during holidays, as millions of people fl ock to these sites en masse. Online booking can help avoid overcrowding by highlighting peak periods, enhancing peoples experience while traveling. The scenic spots themselves will also be spared the pressures that come with the huge fl ow of tourists.

Yet questions remain as to whether this measure is sustainable after the pandemic. Some believe it will work only while a majority of people choose not to travel for fear of the coronavirus. They argue that the vast majority of the working population have only two or three holidays per year, long enough for family group visits to well-known scenic spots far from their home communities. Others will likely be there too. If domestic tourism returns to prepandemic levels, a daily quota for admission risks excluding a large number of potential visitors.

Despite the skeptics, plenty of people said they will embrace the change because they want a better travel experience.

Beneficial reform

Huang Shuai (China Youth Daily): A recent video clip has gone viral online. It shows numerous tourists on the mountain paths of Taishan in Shandong Province, east China, to appreciate the sunrise. The comments show peoples concern about the risks at play. Some, dangerously close to the edge, might fall, or a human crush might result from sudden movement. More importantly, such crowds are a fertile breeding ground for the spread of the coronavirus.

To guard against a possible rebound of the outbreak, an online booking system is urgently required. A vast majority of tourists support this measure. Life is more important than traveli ng. The question is whether such a system can become part of the new post-pandemic normal.

Some scenic spots, principally historical and cultural sites, have already adopted a booking system. The Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu Province in the northwest, is one of them, where centuries-old frescos and fragile cultural heritage demand a limit on daily visitors.

Yet many do not fall into this category. For them there is a conflict of interest between profi t and tourist experience when it comes to reservations and restrictions on visitors. If booking is competitive and scenic spots are required to shorten their opening hours, this will deter tourists, which will negatively affect earnings. Yet if there are no restrictions at all, facilities in the scenic sites are likely to be damaged by crowds of tourists.

Online booking is still in its early stages. Obstacles will appear in the process of implementation, and so supportive measures should be launched to improve related services. This way more people will accept the reform, and both tourists and scenic spots can benefi t from it.

Liao Weifang (n.eastday.com):Reservations for tourist sites should become a conventional practice rather than just a temporary measure during the pandemic. It can help tourists visit scenic spots at different times throughout a holiday period, preventing overcrowding and facilities becoming strained.

In the past, high tourist arrivals at famous scenic spots meant that some people traveled a long way only to find that they couldnt get in. With an online booking system, tourists will be able to check admission availability at the point of planning a trip. This will also make it easier for sites to improve their management and services.

We are already used to making reservations, be it for restaurant tables, hairdressers or medical consultations. While enhancing the tourist experience, reservations will also help to diminish the possibility of contracting infectious diseases. Hopefully reservations for visiting scenic spots will become the new normal, just as those for other services have taken hold in peoples daily lives.

Change in mindset needed

Mu Xuchong (Yangcheng Evening News): People usually go directly to scenic spots without knowing whether those places can accommodate any more visitors. When they fi nd that these spots are overcrowded, they are disappointed and often regret having come. However, if they can fi nd out ahead of time how many visitors will be there during specifi c time slots through an online booking system, their experience will be totally different.

In essence, the booking system aims to make services in scenic spots transparent to potential visitors. It is an effective way to control the fl ow of tourists and it can reduce management costs, dispensing the need for ticket booths and alleviating safety concerns caused by larger numbers of visitors.

For many scenic spots, their decision on how many visitors to admit is based on a calculation of their earnings. More tourists mean more profits. During peak times, scenic spots tend to be fi lled with tourists. In theory regulations are supposed to limit the fl ow of people. Yet in reality, sites often continue to sell tickets both from onsite offices and online, meaning that during holidays these places are often overwhelmed.

For tourists, making reservations prior to departure is an easy adaptation, but for the sites, the issue could impact their economic benefi ts. Amid the pandemic, strict restrictions on the flow of tourists have been imposed on scenic spots, a tradeoff between peoples desire for traveling and the need to prevent a resurgence of the coronavirus.

To make the online booking system a longterm practice, it is necessary for scenic spots to change their mindset. Instead of trying to expand profits by attracting as many tourists as possible, they should try to provide quality services based on specialized and differentiated operations, not only during holidays, but throughout the year.

Zhang Ying (www.voc.com.cn): Having been locked down at home for several months, people are eager to go out and travel. Although the coronavirus has essentially been curbed, it is not time to relax, with prevention measures still needed. Reservations for scenic spots have been adopted in many places to reach this balance between traveling and public health.

The idea for an online booking system was in fact put forward in an official document by the State Council in 2014, aiming to limit the flow of tourists during peak times. This initiative was not been well implemented. In recent years, tourists visiting Chinas scenic spots during holidays often faced long queues for everything from buying tickets to using the restroom. In the face of these huge crowds, scenic spots were forced to stop selling tickets to limit the flow, shutting out visitors at the gate. If online reservations can be implemented properly, both tourists and the sites themselves will be spared a lot of trouble.

The current online booking system is a matter of expediency during the pandemic, but this does not mean that it cannot become the new normal. Tourists are already used to making reservations, booking hotels, train and plane tickets before leaving home. It is now up to the scenic sites to develop a standardized and effective online booking mechanism.