Sinosphere: China Rates the Best Toilets for Tourists (and Tells the Laggards to Clean Up)

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Sinosphere

By MIKE IVES and RYAN MCMORROW

HONG KONG — Smog and corruption are among the problems that the Chinese government has vowed to combat.

Now another problem, which lies right under many tourists’ noses, is in the authorities’ cross hairs: unsightly toilets.

The China National Tourism Administration, a government agency, announced a five-year plan in December to enhance the country’s tourism industry, including a project to build, expand and renovate 100,000 toilets in scenic areas and along tourist routes. The plan complements a campaign to add 57,000 modern public toilets nationwide by late 2017.

The agency’s chairman, Li Jinzao, has said that a failure to upgrade toilets could damage the reputation of China’s tourism industry, which the United Nations said earned $114 billion from international visitors in 2015, second only to the United States.

China should “advance the toilet revolution with the help of science and technology,” Mr. Li said in November at a conference in Beijing.

To help the revolution, the agency published a list of 10 scenic sites with exemplary toilets. The winner was Gubei Water Town, a resort complex of gray brick buildings with tiled roofs at the foot of the Great Wall on the outskirts of Beijing.

On a recent afternoon at Gubei Water Town, a visitor saw restrooms with sofas, potted plants and watercolor paintings. The urinals were exceptionally clean, and the stalls were stocked with what is often a rare commodity in China’s public facilities: toilet paper.

“One small step forward, one giant leap for civility,” a placard above each urinal said.

But the government is taking a hard line against stragglers. The tourism agency said in December that after recent inspections, it had delisted, downgraded or warned 367 A-rated scenic sites for a range of violations, including outdated or unsanitary restrooms.

One place that the government penalized last year was the Shenlong Gorge, a scenic area in the southwestern municipality of Chongqing known for its white-water rafting. Shenlong, which had been classified as 5A, the highest level in the five-tier ratings, was delisted last summer after inspectors conducted two undercover visits.

The National Tourism Administration said in a news release at the time that the Shenlong Gorge was a “prominent laggard of the toilet revolution, with messy toilet sanitation, filthy conditions, seriously bad odors and dirty toilet appliances.”

In response, the site closed for five days in August, partly to renovate its 12 restrooms and add soap and toilet paper dispensers. But as of this week, it was still unaccredited.

The number of visitors to Shenlong Gorge has slumped, and the management recently dropped the entrance fee to 80 renminbi, about $12, from 100 renminbi, said Liao Jiangwei, Shenlong’s general manager. He said that he was working to improve the site’s restrooms but that some of the government’s standards appeared to be subjective.

“It is hard for us to judge if our own toilets are smelly or dirty,” Mr. Liao said.

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