China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) launched an online tour guide platform in May 2016, approving eight companies to run pilot programs for tour guide management.
The programs, usually integrated with online services, aim to improve the management and protection of the legal interests of guides, whilst also enhancing service quality, said an official at the Bureau of Supervision at the CNTA.
The first batch of regions for the pilot are Shanghai, Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Guangdong, Jilin, Hunan, Hainan, Sichuan and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Tourists can use the platform to either check information or comment about specific tour guides.
Online Booking Becomes Fashionable
During the Spring Festival holiday, daily orders for online guides soared by almost five-fold over the past year, according to a report by the online travel agency Ctrip.
The report showed that the average cost of tour guides was 500 yuan ($72.65). About 90 percent of tourists said they were satisfied with the guide's service.
Families of four or more accounted for 80 percent of those choosing female guides. The report also said that Ctrip had about 250 million users, who spent over 20 billion yuan ($2.9 billion) via its online travel agencies (OTA) platform in 2016, with each customer paying over 3,000 yuan ($436).
Chinese tourists spent more money via OTA thanks to the rapid growth of e-commerce and mobile internet, according to an industrial report.
Chinese tourists spent over 600 billion yuan ($87 billion) via OTA platforms, 34 percent more than tourism spending via brick-and-mortar travel agencies, according to Ctrip.
Seeking Multi-Party Participation
As the nation's top tourism regulator piloted a freelance tour guide program last year, tourists can now book services from freelance tour guides via online platforms.
More and more agencies allow visitors to reserve guides, pay in the third party applications and leave feedback on the website.
Some travel websites determine payment to guides based primarily on tourist ratings, and some aim to formulate codes of ethics for guides, which will be introduced as national industry standards.
The pilot programs are expected to better connect consumers seeking personalized services and freelancers seeking job opportunities.
Online services provide more possibilities for low-paid part-time tour guides and better ensure the interests of freelancers at a time when many of them are struggling with their wages and social security.
As the new pilot program rolls out, more institutions will build platforms for guide reversing to promote an internet plus tourism strategy and tap into more job opportunities for tour guides.
Needs for Offline Supervision
One of the greatest challenges for the pilot program is flawed industry management, mainly reflected in the illegal practice of forced shopping, unclear prices and unscrupulous cheating.
To enhance supervision and self-discipline in the travel industry, the pilot programs are expected to prevent unruly tourist behavior that has made national headlines and tarnished the country's image overseas.
Experts suggested that a national supervision platform is needed to verify tour guide certification and to deal with possible disputes that might occur, such as offering shopping trips that many tourists complain about.
In addition, more and more information on travel agencies, restaurants and scenic spots can be shared on the platform in the future, experts added.
(Source: China Women's University/Translated and edited by Gender Study Network)