Last week tourist hotspot Lijiang began charging visitors 80 yuan to enter the old town. The 80-yuan 'old town maintenance fee', which was previously 40 yuan, was raised to its new price on the first of this month.
It is too early to say how this will affect visits to Lijiang, which had 4 million visitors last year, but the timing before the peak of the summer travel season suggests that many travelers - especially foreigners - will be frustrated by an unexpected 80-yuan ticket to enter Lijiang. It is highly unlikely that the fee will be mentioned in any English guidebooks about China used this summer.
Not everyone entering the old town - a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997 - has to pay the 80 yuan fee. According to Chinese media reports, all citizens administered by the Lijiang municipal government, all certified tour guides and drivers, handicapped soldiers or veterans, children shorter than 1.2 meters, retirees or anyone older than 70 can enter Lijiang's old town without charge.
Looking ahead, it appears possible that in the long term a significant amount of travelers will skip Lijiang for other nearby destinations in Yunnan such as Dali or Tiger Leaping Gorge.
China has recently been warned by UNESCO regarding the impact of tourism on Lijiang. It is unclear if there is any connection to the 80-yuan entrance fee and the concerns voiced by the World Heritage Committee late last month.
Most Chinese media reports appear to support Lijiang's new entrance fee, a notable exception being Chinese news site CRI, which recently published an article entitled "Don't Let 'Protecting Culture' Become 'Selling Culture'".
Lijiang Old Town Image: Mac Xu
UPDATE: GoKunming readers have sent feedback indicating that although the fee does officially exist, it is not being enforced very strictly.