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'Most tourists need a map not a guide as it costs much less'

APRIL and May used to be the busiest season for 25-year-old tour guide Zhu Jiajia, but business is so bad in the global economic downturn that she might as well take a vacation.

Zhu has worked for a state-owned travel agency in Shanghai for about four years. An English speaker, she is mainly responsible for international tours in Shanghai; most clients are European and American.

Usually, tourists start coming in March and keep coming for a couple of months. But few had shown up in April.

"I used to have quite a full schedule this season. Guide a tour around Shanghai in the day, pick up another tour in the evening and prepare for the next day tour at night," says Zhu. "But now, I am often idle for a day or two a week and at most I get only one tour a day."

Most foreigners who preferred package tours with a guide now choose independent travel. Zhu gets work picking up tourists at the airport and sending them to hotels.

"Most tourists now just need a map instead of a guide as it costs much less." says Zhu.

Since April, she has only had 10 package tours. The rest of the time she stays home and chats with friends online.

"I used to complain about my tight schedule, but now I miss the busy days," she says. "Hanging around and having nothing to do is killing me."

Fortunately, Zhu doesn't face a lay-off, but her income falls.

Zhu has a base salary of 960 yuan (US$146) per month, and every tour adds another 20 yuan per day. There are tips from generous clients and commission from shopping malls.

But the global economic crisis has changed all that. Tourists spend less or they stay home.

"With shrunken pockets, how can you expect them to buy expensive things at the shops and pay you generous tips?" says Zhu.

Zhu used to get generous tips of about US$150, but now it ranges from 50 yuan to 100 yuan.

But for now, she just wishes she had more work.


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