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May 12, 2011

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Tour agencies in firing line

TOURISM authorities will continue to crack down on travel agencies illegally forcing tourists to buy unlicensed products such as fake traditional Chinese medicine, officials said yesterday.

Officials said some agencies lure tourists, foreigners in particular, to buy "precious and rare" TCM herbs, most of which are common health foods.

The Shanghai Tourism Administration uncovered several cases in which package tour travelers were forced to buy health care products at 10 times their real value. The administration didn't reveal the agencies' names.

"Travel agencies took advantage of foreigners' curiosity about traditional Chinese medicine," said Dao Shuming, director of the administration.

He said in some cases foreigners were taken to free consultation services at pharmacies where they had a chance to see herbalists. In other cases, tourists were given lectures on the history of traditional Chinese medicine.

"Fake herbalist doctors exaggerated the functions of medicines and claimed to have herbal remedies passed down from their families," Dao said.

Tourists were then encouraged to buy "rare and precious medicinal herbal plants" and capsules.

Dao added that many did not realize they were cheated until they got home.

"I am not sure whether this medicine is from a reputable company or whether it's safe for consumption," said a Singaporean tourist, surnamed Ng, in a letter to Shanghai Daily last December.

Ng said her tour guide brought her to a Nanjing Tong Ren Tang store in Shanghai and that she spent nearly S$2,000 (US$1,625) on herbal medicines there.


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