BEIJING, China – Although China has regulated tourist behavior through enforcing its first tourism law, fines and punishment will prove less effective than education in cultivating well-behaved travelers, agree experts and workers at scenic spots.
Zhou Xiaozheng, professor at Renmin University of China, said that much of the misconduct of tourists is a moral problem and could not be restrained merely by laws.
“It is essential to help ill-behaved Chinese tourists pursue inner change,” said Zhou, as China braces for an annual spike in visitors to domestic attractions during Spring Festival holidays.
Lin Qiudi, a sanitation worker with the Sanqing Mountain World Geopark in east China’s Jiangxi Province, said that the most prominent misconduct of tourists is littering and graffiti.
Lin’s boss, Zha Qizhi, deputy chief for administering the Sanqing Mountain resort, sees it as more feasible to educate visitors through better services.
With this in mind, the resort administration has come up with an initiative designed to demonstrate the difficulty of clearing trash from the mountain’s precipices, all while providing a spectacle. It turns the area’s 100-strong team of sanitation workers into “spidermen.”
Using rudimentary abseiling equipment tied to the mountain’s walkways, cleaners are dropped into the valley several hundred meters below to pick up rogue plastic bags or water bottles.
Normally, the whole process takes a little over 20 minutes. If tourists drop their cellphones or cameras into the valley, they will also lend a hand in retrieving them.
It has succeeded in creating a talking point. A sightseer surnamed Yu from Zhejiang Province could not help tracking one of the cleaners with his camera.
“I am really shocked to see how dangerous the cleaning work can be. The cleaners are actually risking their lives to remove garbage. I promise to do no more littering from now on,” Yu said.
Lin goes over the cliffs to clean up trash a dozen times a day on average. The 48-year-old recalled one particularly complex operation in which he dangled on a hemp rope for almost an hour to get rid of a plastic bag hung on a tree below a cliff.
“It is difficult. We playfully call ourselves ‘spidermen’ and use such cleaning more like a performing act to arouse the public’s compassion. It is worthwhile if it makes tourists hesitate to litter, and in particular, no longer throw trash into hard-to-reach areas,” Lin said.
The Tourism Law was implemented on October 1 last year, obliging provincial governments to impose fines on ill-behaved tourists and bringing front of mind the need for education campaigns.
Lin said before that point, he and other sanitation workers used the same method to clear trash from the valley. But they would avoid doing the work when significant numbers of tourists were around. That all changed when they were encouraged to try to raise consciousness about good and bad tourist behavior.
“Now we are very high-profile and purposely clean when there is a crowd so as to educate as many tourists as possible,” Lin said.
Apart from cleaning in a more visible way, Zha said, installing more wastebins has also helped limit littering.
“We used to find garbage left a few meters away from a trash can. After more wastebins were put to use, this problem has been largely solved,” Zha said.
Xu Xiumei, a tour guide who has worked at the scenic spot for eight years, said that these moves proved very helpful in correcting misconduct.
“A years ago, graffiti like ‘Joe Bloggs was here’ could often be seen on the bark of rare trees. Now, it’s rarely seen,” Xu said.
Wu Jingjun, dean of the Tourism School of the Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics, supported the measures undertaken by the Sanqing Mountain World Geopark.
Fining and punishment were unenforceable, in his opinion. “To uproot misconduct of tourists, long-term education to contain egoism and raise the public’s compassion for others and the awareness of environment is essential,” Wu said.