a traveller in an airport

China is tightening regulations for online travel operators amidst criticisms of negligence after a boat capsized in Thailand killing 47 Chinese tourists. Source: Shutterstock

China tightening regulations for online travel operators

CHINA is tightening regulations on online travel operators in the country. This came after a fatal boating accident in Thailand spurred claims of negligence.

The regulations mark Beijing’s first focused attempt to monitor the industry, which has grown in recent years as outbound Chinese tourists grew in numbers.

According to a report by Bloomberg, the country’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism will make it compulsory for all online travel agencies and platforms to improve their safety planning.

The new regulations will require the digital travel operators to improve rescue and emergency plans, better vet and manage on-ground service providers, purchase liability insurance, and protect clients’ personal information.

Under existing laws, brick and mortar travel agencies are mandated to purchase liability insurance. However, the law does not extend to cover online platforms.

In fact, according to Bloomberg’s sources, some web providers don’t have a government-issued operating license or liability insurance.

Before the new laws are enacted in China, the government seek the opinion of the public through consultations on the matter.

The incident in Thailand saw a boat capsized off Phuket in July, putting Chinese regulators under fire for the lack of accountability for internet operators.

It was reported that nearly all of the 127 Chinese citizens involved in the accident had booked their trips via online tour platforms, including the 47 deceased.

The ministry issued an urgent notice shortly after, calling for local authorities to perform emergency investigations of online travel platforms. Tour products that were found to be substandard were immediately suspended.

After the incident, Thai government ministers blamed Chinese tour operators for failing to respect Thailand’s safety laws. Chinese media outlets too pointed fingers at the online platforms for not putting any safety mechanisms in place.

China’s outbound tourism has been growing exponentially, with 135 million people traveling overseas spending over US$261 billion in 2016 alone, according to World Bank data.

Bloomberg’s numbers indicate that China’s online travel market will continue to be one of the world’s fastest growing globally over the next decade.

As the industry continues to grow, China will have to double its efforts to establish a proper framework and better regulations or risk ‘casual’ tour operations putting more citizens at risk.