Even though most Singaporeans can speak quite a bit of Mandarin, many of us are not confident of travelling independently in China. Joining a tour in Singapore saves some trouble, but it doesn’t save you any money as you need to pay a premium for the convenience and the accountability. Some folks try to avoid the middle man by joining tours in China itself. The difference in pricing is very significant, but is it worth it?
The video below shows modus operandi of tours conducted by some shady companies in China. I have tried a couple of these tours as there was no private transport around Chinese New Year. They were all very cheap, but to make up for it, they always try to “upsell” along the way. A meal may be included, but if you decide not to pay more at the restaurant, you won’t get any decent food. At every travel destination, they would set appropriate traps to cajole you into buying.
After touring the public places like temples, palaces, gardens or museums, the “grand finale” takes place inside a private building – definitely not included in the itinerary. You’ve got a captive audience in a meeting room or auditorium. What do you think they have in mind? I remember being brought to an “army camp” with a tank parked in the porch. After a short tour of military hardware, they sold kitchen knives! Unlike some cave or temple, museum or garden, you have nowhere to run. That’s when the selling is always most aggressive as it’s the last chance they have to rip to off.
I have joined such tours twice as it was Chinese New Year and there wasn’t much private transport to get to those destinations. Fortunately, there were a few suckers in the group who bought the goods being pushed at them. I managed to escape without buying anything.
Fancy a winter holiday? How about the snow and ice of Harbin? The video below shows spy cam footage of scams on two of these tour packages. It’s the typical bait and fleece. First, the travel agency (licenced) advertise a very cheap package. The unsuspecting tourist joins and pays up.
Once you board the bus, the whole scam begins to unfold. The tour guide (also licenced) demands for more money. What if you don’t pay? Then you’ll have to wait in the snow and cold until everyone is done with all those lame activities. These lame activities take place behind a hotel but you can’t join from the hotel. Likewise in the second scam, the tour guide guarantees the group that they won’t be able to buy tickets on their own. The operators at the destinations are their accomplices.
散客 are independent travellers and for these scams to work well, they must be excluded. In the second case, a few of those in the group found out that they could get their own tickets at the destination. They ended up being threatened by the guide and her “assistant”. After some negotiation, with those who opted out of the package declaring that they really had no money, the guide soften somewhat but still wanted some “payment”. Those who didn’t pay were not even allowed to step out of the holding area.
The best part was a bald statement that the tour guide made in answer to a question of why all these additional fees were not made known to them in the beginning. Her answer seemed to suggest that there is nothing wrong with baiting and cheating. Sure, the authorities are going to crack down on these bad practices, but one thing’s for sure, they’ll be back in business again and again, year after year.