Mon, Jul 09, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Tourists report Tibet harassment

By Hsiao Su-mei, Luo Tien-pin and Hsu Min-jung  /  STAFF REPORTERS , WITH STAFF WRITER

Taiwanese tour groups returning from trips to Tibet have warned potential visitors to be prepared for aggressive harassment from street vendors there.

Tourists have told tales of extortion and even beatings by vendors when they refused to purchase goods.

A man surnamed Lin () who returned in June with a 21-person tour group after a nine-day visit to Tibet reported that the trip was an unpleasant experience.

The group was mobbed by vendors at every bus stop.

Some of the vendors turned violent when the visitors refused to buy their goods, he said.

At Yamdrok Yumtso Lake the group was surrounded by dozens of sellers, Lin said. He agreed to buy a stone bracelet and necklace, but after the vendor tried to cheat him by switching items, Lin refused to buy it. The vendor then struck him with the stone necklaces.

Another woman from the same group said that she was kicked after refusing to buy trinkets and had to request the intervention of the tour guide. The atmosphere grew tense as the Taiwanese group refused to back down. Another Taiwanese tour group finally arrived and the vendors dispersed.

Other groups have reported that locals demanded money for taking pictures of temples, though the groups had bought entrance tickets. If visitors didn't pay, they were followed and harassed.

Another Taiwanese tour guide reported that while his group was boarding the train to leave Tibet, the local guide and bus driver refused to let the group go.

The local guide demanded compensation because the group hadn't visited small markets and had asked to change hotels, which was an insult to Tibetans, the guide said. The incident was eventually resolved with an apology from the group.

The report did not say if the vendors in question were ethnic Tibetan or Han immigrants to the region.

Mainland Affairs Council figures show that about 3 million Taiwanese travel to China on business or as tourists each year.

Research commissioned by the council showed the main problems in China are lack of safety precautions for travelers, overbooked transportation, counterfeit goods, infectious diseases, changing itineraries, poor accommodation and disputes over tipping.

In the report, researchers suggested that tourism agencies in China and Taiwan work together to eliminate illegal tour operators.

The council said that travelers should not lower their defenses just because Taiwan and China share the same language.

Before leaving for China, tourists should buy adequate insurance and thoroughly research travel information and details of emergency services, the council said.

Chang Chih-chung (張執中), a professor at Ling Tung University who contributed to the study, said that Taiwanese also should keep their money out of sight and avoid high-risk behavior such as visiting prostitutes.

Hsu Shu-ling (許淑玲) of the China division of the Taipei Association of Travel Agents said tourists who are treated poorly should present evidence of the mistreatment to their local travel association.

The association would then convey the information to China's local tourism bureaus, she said.

If Chinese tour operators were found to be at fault, the association would work to have Chinese authorities issue a written warning to the operators, she said.

If the Chinese authorities failed to respond, the association would discourage travel to the area the problems occurred in, she said.

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