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A tour guide in Yunnan was sentenced to six months in prison and fined 2,000 yuan ($310) on Sunday for berating and threatening tourists who refused to shop at souvenir retail outlets.
The tour guide, Li Yun, had worked for Kunming Yundi International Travel Agency. In December, she forced a group of travelers to shop during a three-day tour of Jinghong in Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture.
Eight travelers were pressured to buy souvenirs, including jade and tea, with a total value of 15,156 yuan. Other tourists who refused to shop, or who didn"t meet the quota of 2,000 yuan set by Li, were verbally abused or not given hotel room keys.
A short video taken by a member of Li"s tour group was posted online and soon viewed nearly 20,000 times on the internet. It was reposted by several media outlets.
The case has sparked outrage across the country, fueling demands for more regulation while raising concerns about guide services and forced shopping in the province.
"The judgment in Li"s case is a reflection of the strong determination of the local government to clean up its tourism industry," said Yu Fan, director of the Yunnan Tourism Development Commission.
He said Yunnan will continue to address problems in its travel industry. "Strict rules and punishments are bringing a travel industry revolution in the province," he said.
Yunnan has been a popular destination for tourists from China and abroad. However, in recent years, numerous incidents of tourists being swindled, abused, beaten or forced by tour guides to purchase overpriced commodities at designated stores have been reported by the media.
According to the Yunnan Public Security Department, a tourism police force was established to conduct inspections in seven tourism hot spots in 2016, including Kunming, Dali and Lijiang.
The provincial tourism commission also introduced 22 measures in April to clean up the industry, including a ban on forced shopping and overly cheap tours and punishing fraud targeting tourists.
The cleanup measures have shaken the province"s tourism sector. A tour guide surnamed Xia said bus tour orders in the province were down by two-thirds in the first quarter of this year, compared with the same period in 2017. Many tour guides have left Yunnan to find jobs in neighboring regions, Xia said.
"The strict measures are good for the healthy long-term development of the province"s tourism. But to solve those deep-rooted problems, a mechanism to balance the interests of both tour guides and travelers is necessary," said Yang Fuquan, a researcher at Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences.
He said competition is fierce among travel agencies. To attract tourists, they advertise tours at extremely low prices - so low that sometimes they don"t even make enough to cover their expenses.
"Travel agencies often pay tour guides poorly. To compensate, many guides have made deals with shopkeepers to bring them tourists, and they earn a commission on any purchases made," he said. "A win-win mechanism should be built - for example, giving standardized tips to guides."