You see advertisements for $99 tours to China. You pay for your own airfare as well. Too good to be true right? Well, not really. This is not a scam. You really pay $99 for all your lodging, transportation, meals, and sightseeing. You’re going to stay in really fancy hotels, have a nice air conditioned bus to take you around, and eat decent food.
Here’s the part that’s not mentioned. You’re going to spend more than half your time shopping at the government stores. When you join a tour to China, they are required to take you to these stores that sell stereotypical Chinese items such as tea, pearls, jade, artwork, herbal medicine, silk blankets, clay tea pots and more. I call this “hostage shopping” because you really don’t have a choice. The salespeople will pitch you on all these great properties of their product. Every city you visit has a distinct product that they “only” make there. If you asked me, don’t believe in their sales pitch. If you want to buy the item, buy it because you want it and not all the crap that comes spewing out of their mouth. That’s just verbal diarrhea.
How could you tell if it’s a government owned shopping establishment? The big giveaway is that they don’t allow you to take pictures. They don’t want you to have any evidence of this “experience.” I think they don’t want to take pictures because you might show your friends back home or you might have evidence that disproves their sales pitch. For example, when I was at Xian visiting the terracotta soldiers, the farmer that discovered the terracotta soldiers was there to sign books for a fee. There was a strong presence of security making sure people don’t have their cameras out. Why? This is just some old guy acting like the farmer. They will just replace him with another old guy when he can’t do this anymore. That’s why they don’t want pictures. It’s all a dog and pony show.
The tour cost $99 because they expect you to buy stuff to make up for the low price. Who would run a business if they’re going to lose money right? The tour guide and the driver split all the commissions from your shopping. Often times, that commission range from 40-60% of the price.
The tour agenda is very rushed. They rush the group through some of the most scenic parts so that they can maximize your time shopping. If I had to break it down, you’ll spend 50% of your time shopping, 25% sitting in the bus, 25% of your time sightseeing. In my opinion, don’t take your vacation time and waste it on Chinese hostage shopping.
China has a lot to offer tourists. I’ve been there more than 5 times. Most of the time, they treat tourists like great big piles of cash. That’s not what I want on a vacation. You just have to find the right travel company that will customize a vacation for you.
Thailand and Hong Kong do this too.