The scenery in the mountaneous city of Zhangjiajie in central China is so otherworldly that it’s said to have inspired the alien moon Pandora in James Cameron’s Avatar.
Like this view? That’ll be half your paycheck
The city's Wulingyuan Scenic Area is a Unesco world heritage site and a source of pride for the Chinese government. Visit on a misty day, and you'll see the more than 3,000 sandstone pillars and peaks that resemble floating islands.
But would you spend half of your monthly paycheck to see it?
A tour of the three main sights in the Zhangjiajie park currently costs more than $95. That’s about half the average monthly disposable income for a local resident.
It’s a lot – Pandora or not.
The high cost involved in seeing some of China’s top tourist attractions is a problem that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang wants to tackle.
In a work report to China’s legislature last week, Li suggested slashing ticket prices at key sites.
If his plan works, tourists will save money when visiting major attractions in the country – from parks and rice terraces to temples, walled cities and historic sites.
“I think the premier’s remarks, and this move, are long overdue,” said Wang Lin, a Beijing office worker. “Many of these parks should have been free in the first place – like Mount Fuji in Japan. Of course, there are a few places in China that are free, like West Lake in Hangzhou.”
The hefty price tag at Zhangjiajie isn't unusual. More than half of the country's top-tier sites charge upwards of $15 for entry, and many at least twice that, said Zhan Dongmei, from official research institute the China Tourism Academy.
Many of them are pricier than similar attractions in other countries, she said, and are out of reach for average families.
But He Jianmin, a professor of tourism management at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, defended the high ticket prices at some national parks. They reflected the cost of maintenance and facilities, and there was a lack of subsidies from the central government, he said.
“Most of the parks are located in remote areas so they have to build roads, toilets and everything else needed to support these sites,” he said. “It’s like building a small town.”
To be sure, there are more affordable options in China. In Beijing, famous attractions like the Forbidden City and the most popular section of the Great Wall charge just a few dollars for entry.
Premier Li’s proposal to cut prices is part of the Chinese government’s economic push to boost domestic consumption rather than relying on investment and exports for growth.
“Tourists can use the money they save on entry fees to pay for better hotels, local entertainment, food and so on,” says tourism researcher Zhan.
“They’ll have better experiences and the people who make their living at these tourist attractions will make better profits.”
Sounds like a win-win to us.