The introduction of an entry fee for an ancient scenic town in Hunan province has led to a sharp decline in tourists, and Chinese Internet users say the policy discourages visitors.
"We have begun to witness the impact of the new policy," a female employee at March Inn in Fenghuang county, which is well known for its historical and scenic attractions, said on Sunday. She declined to give her name.
"All the rooms in my hostel were usually booked up during weekends in the past, but this weekend we have seen a sharp drop in guests and reservation. There are far fewer tourists on the streets than before."
According to an online poll by Sina, one of China's most popular news websites, nearly 93 percent of respondents said they will not go to Fenghuang because of the charge. The poll had drawn nearly 90,000 participants by late Sunday.
Six percent said they do not care about the policy since they are not interested in visiting Fenghuang.Only 1 percent said they will go to the ancient town regardless of the cost.
Tourism is Fenghuang'a main industry. According to the county government, Fenghuang received around 2.3 million travelers and earned 5.3 billion yuan ($856 million) in tourism revenue last year. The industry provided more than 20,000 jobs, and about 60,000 people make a living by serving tourists.
To "regulate the tourism market", the county issued a ticket policy on Wednesday that stipulates tourists must pay an entrance fee of 148 yuan to visit the old town of Fenghuang, which includes admission to 10 scenic areas.
Entry to the town used to be free but tourists had to buy tickets for each scenic spot they visited.The measure has sparked a backlash from businesses and tourists.
Concerned business owners staged a protest on Thursday, blocking access to tourist sites and requesting authorities adjust the charge policy.
The crowd was later dispersed by law enforcement officers, and four people involved in a physical conflict with officers were taken away by police, Cai Long, deputy head of the county government, said on Saturday.
He said the policy was introduced to regulate the tourism market and will help to protect the old town and benefit business in the long run.
Meanwhile, Zhao Haifeng, executive deputy head of Fenghuang county, said the government is aware of the policy's effect on small businesses and will take measures to assist them.
However, business owners remain skeptical toward the policy and its possible consequences.