China Spree or Ritz Tours

Old Aug 30th, 2008, 11:44 AM
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China Spree or Ritz Tours

Could I hear from those of you who have taken the China Spree "Best Treasures" tour or the Ritz Tours' "China Scenic" tour? They are similar in sites visited and cost, with Ritz a little more expensive. Has anyone tried both companies, so to provide a comparison? What reputation do these companies have? Thanks, Sue
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Old Sep 1st, 2008, 08:37 PM
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We did the China Spree "Best Treasures" in Oct. 2006. It was wonderful. Good hotels, good guides, good food, etc. They pack a lot into each day. And, they limit the group to 20 people. I would use them again!
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Old Sep 1st, 2008, 08:39 PM
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Check the Frommers boards. There is a lot of information from others who have used China Spree!
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Old Sep 7th, 2008, 01:17 PM
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Thanks Debbie.
I've decided on China Spree because I like their Best Treasures agenda better.
Sue
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Old Sep 7th, 2008, 06:49 PM
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Hope those post are not fake. Some travel agents are reliable by their professionalism and some aren't.
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Old Sep 8th, 2008, 06:00 AM
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Sue- Glad I could help. We loved China. When are you going? If you have any questions I would be glad to help.
Debbie
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Old Sep 8th, 2008, 06:39 PM
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I'd like to recommend that you could do more search in www.google.com by putting in China Tour or China Travel, then you will find good websites listed in the first page. Or do more search at some big travel forums. China Spree seems not bad but a private tour will be more flexible and enjoyable.
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Old Sep 9th, 2008, 12:23 AM
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Spam patrolling on the Frommer's board is particularly weak, and there's much posting by company members posting as satisfied customers. Caveat lector.

But casting round the Internet at random as suggested above is the worst possible idea, and no Chinese tour company should be booked this way as they are completely unreliable.

As for foreign tour companies, it should be noted that in almost all cases there are relying on precisely the same limited number of Chinese ground handlers, and so tours vary much less than you might think.

In addition to the usual considerations of route, cultural level, group size, and so on, you should ask the tour companies some questions:

What is your tipping policy? There is no tipping in China, and in order to be able to offer very low prices some companies spring on you a non-optional tip once the booking is made. This is daylight robbery. If your tour company is recommending that you pay out US$3 per day here, and US$5 per day there, look elsewhere. If they recommend you bring low denomination US dollar bills with you not only look elsewhere but first track down the company's offices and set fire to them before they can rip anyone else off.

How many shopping stops will there be? Other than tipping-theft policies, this is the main way the company makes money, by repeatedly leading hapless tourists into places that will charge them 10 to 15 times too much for trinkets, and the guide will get 40% (or more), and the bus driver a cash sum, too. Some companies manage to limit these to one or two per trip (it is almost impossible to avoid them entirely). You can always sit them out (you certainly shouldn't be spending money), but find out how much time you're going to be spending doing that.

Just how relentless is the pace? The cheaper companies tend to cram in as much as they can. It helps to keep you from freelance shopping rather than shopping from which they can take a bite.

Is there a foreign tour manager who will accompany the group the whole time? This is worth paying more for since there are constant problems with downgraded hotel rooms or other non-delivery of promised benefits. An experienced tour manager sees all this coming and heads it off.

Note that very little of what your tour guides tell you will actually be true, since they have been to schools that teach them what should be said to foreigners. The travel industry is just another part of the overall propaganda effort. Read widely and bring Western source books with you.

Note that in the worst cases you'll be in hotels on the edge of big cities with a lot of time wasted in taking buses into the centre. In some you'll stay at one hotel and be bussed to another for lunch (and a shopping demonstration of some kind). In general, especially at the cheaper end, itineraries are driven by whatever's profitable to the tour company in terms of kick-backs, and not by what's best for the tourist. Food is often poor, although those only accustomed to Chinese take-away food overseas may well not realise that they've never had real Chinese food in their lives, nor what they are missing.

So if you usually travel independently, do it in China, too. If you prefer tours, expect widespread dishonesty and book with great caution, and certainly not at random from the Internet, but with a company whose name you know, and liable under the laws of your home country to pay compensation if things don't go well.

Peter N-H
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Old Sep 9th, 2008, 05:56 AM
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We enjoy traveling with a group. Before I plan a trip I usually ask what tour companies people recommend and then I investigate them. We have had some great trips!
Lighten up!
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Old Sep 9th, 2008, 07:48 AM
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If 'lighten up' means 'Please don't tell people about the realities of organised tourism in China so that they know what they are getting into, can make an informed choice of tour company, and can avoid some of the worst aspects of China touring,' I think I'll decline.

No one's criticised the idea of group travel itself. Just suggested better methods of choosing a tour company for China.

Perhaps the posting needs to be read again?
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Old Sep 9th, 2008, 08:03 PM
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I do not want to argue but just post my opinion about on line booking trend. Most people book goods and service on line and this trend is increasing day by day. Why so many companies like AK, ritztours.com, AmericanExpress.com and so on who could offer good service? So some big companies in China could offer that good service too. Some China travel company could offer Money Back Guarantee means if you are not satisfied with its service, they will refund you regulated portion of payment. Their website is on line but they are real company like CITS Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and Guilin.
They also do not force their clients shop or other extra items if their clients say No. Guides, if they force those clients to shop, will be punished. Clients could complain and get some compensation.
Those tours they offer are personal tours with your own guide and car service. Of course, if you want to travel as a backpacker, you even suffer tourism trap sometimes. In that case, whom you could turn to?
So my advice for you when you are booking a China tour:
Search a company has good testimonials.
Better recommended by your friends.
Recommendations from big travel forums.
Make sure what you will do
Make sure what you will not do
If you are forced to something, make sure you could complain and get compensation.
Make sure you are forced to do something by your guides or by your travel advisor.
Call your travel advisor timely to complain if you are not satisfied with what your guide do.

Though many company keep gap for their guides, if you say No before the tour, most of them will do accept your will.

If you are traveling to China, you have to search more, learn more, why not keep my advice in mind.
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Old Sep 9th, 2008, 10:41 PM
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> I do not want to argue but just post my opinion about on line booking trend.

I don't want to argue but I do want to help people avoid falling into various China tourism traps.

>Most people book goods and service on line and this trend is increasing day by day.

The on-line-ness of a company is not to the point. It would be equally unwise to book with an unknown Chinese company by phone or letter.

There are things it is wise to book on-line because they are known, fixed, quantities supplied within a tightly regulated commercial framework: Books from Amazon? Yes. Hampers from Harrods? Yes. Powerful drugs from unknown on-line pharmacies based overseas? No. Magical potions to make you irresistible to the opposite sex (from any company)? No. Tours from unknown Chinese tour companies? No.

Possibly the only industries more corrupt and exploitative in China than its travel industry are its construction/real estate and mining industries. This doesn't mean that no one should travel in China, or that no one should take a tour. But it does mean they should be very careful indeed when dealing with unknowns.

> Why so many companies like AK, ritztours.com, AmericanExpress.com and so on who could offer good service? So some big companies in China could offer that good service too.

Could, but have frequently proved not to do so. And if they don't there's nothing that can be done about it.

Booking with companies based at home, however, brings a reliable regulatory framework into play, through which compensation can be claimed, if necessary. Some (like A&K) have far tighter supervision to keep the ground handlers in line: but you pay a lot more for this. Not all tour companies based in the West are equal, either. Questions to ask them before making a choice have already been suggested.

> Some China travel company could offer Money Back Guarantee means if you are not satisfied with its service, they will refund you regulated portion of payment.

Chinese travel companies will promise you anything to get you to pay up. Getting a refund is another matter. Don't hold your breath unless blue suits you.

> Their website is on line but they are real company like CITS Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and Guilin.

A very fine example. CITS should be avoided at all costs. Its history of mendacity, cheating, and overcharging is unparalleled in China (although CTS and CYTS come close).

> They also do not force their clients shop or other extra items if their clients say No.

They take them, far too frequently, to shopping 'opportunities' at which their clients, on the advice of their guides, pay several multiples too much for goods, while the driver gets a cash gift and the guide gets a kick-back of 40% or more.

> Guides, if they force those clients to shop, will be punished. Clients could complain and get some compensation.

I'm sorry, but fat chance.

> Those tours they offer are personal tours with your own guide and car service.

For which they dramatically overcharge, relieving them of the necessity of the shopping stops--but there are always kick-backs from hotels, non-big-name sights, and restaurants instead.

> Of course, if you want to travel as a backpacker, you even suffer tourism trap sometimes.
In that case, whom you could turn to?

No one. Backpackers fall into such traps all the time. The ubiquity of such traps proves the need for caution at all levels. None of which constitutes an argument for booking directly with a Chinese tour company.

> So my advice for you when you are booking a China tour:
> Search a company has good testimonials.

Try to work out how many on the site are fake, and how many genuine.

> Better recommended by your friends.

But still ask them the same questions about tipping, shopping, tour managers, etc. Did they stay in one hotel only to be bussed to another for lunch, etc? Just how repetitive and similar to Chinese food at home (a bad thing) was the cuisine?

> Recommendations from big travel forums.

Might just as well stop people at random in the street except that there might be less bias. Many forums are invaded by individuals employed by tour companies and pretending to be satisfied clients. Such individuals and other China-based guides have begun to work this site, too, on a regular basis.

>Make sure what you will do
Make sure what you will not do

Obviously: ask the questions suggested.

> If you are forced to something, make sure you could complain and get compensation.

From a Chinese tour company? It isn't going to happen.

> Make sure you are forced to do something by your guides or by your travel advisor.
Call your travel advisor timely to complain if you are not satisfied with what your guide do.

Not sure what either of these points mean. But if they relate to compensation from a Chinese company for unsatisfactory behaviour in China, it isn't going to happen. There appear to be mechanisms for complaint, but it's almost unknown actually to achieve anything by complaining.

> Though many company keep gap for their guides, if you say No before the tour, most of them will do accept your will.

> If you are traveling to China, you have to search more, learn more, why not keep my advice in mind.

Because, I'm sorry, it's poor advice. No one should be approaching the Chinese tour industry without their skepto-meters turned to maximum.

By all means choose a tour, but go into it with the eyes open. Be extremely cautious about companies offering very low prices as there will be hidden costs galore. Consider Western tour companies but question them on every detail. Don't bother with the increasingly myriad Chinese ones as the chance of a fair product for a fair price with all delivered as promised is vanishingly small. Be cautious of companies appearing to be American (for instance) but that are actually China-owned (China Focus, for instance; and I have my doubts about China Spree). Some of these are keen planters of fake satisfied customer postings.

Nor does this deal with the generic problem of China tours that whereas even people who usually travel independently are more likely to take them, fearing they won't be able to cope with a language and culture so different from their own, and hoping to gain enlightenment. But China tours (including those from foreign companies that use Chinese ground handlers) deliver boldly inaccurate Party-approved histories, and carefully skirt forbidden territory. Production is always up; the minorities are always happy (they sing and dance); now let's catch our train to the Tibet that's been an inalienable part of the Motherland for 800 years. To get a fuller understanding of the realities it's best to travel with the kind of tour group that is led by a foreign specialist, sad though it is to say that.

I've interviewed dozens of tour companies, and taken many a tour in China where I've listened quietly to all the shenanigans going on. Colleagues and I have spent quite a lot of time looking into these questions in an assortment of Chinese provinces, known guides personally, and watched the kick-backs be handed over. Most of the problems I've outlined are very well known to the Chinese themselves, and who are themselves frequently victims.

It's a depressing business all round, and not pleasant to talk about. But it's a disservice to intending travellers to pretend that things are other than they are.

To revert to the original query, I wouldn't use either Spree or Ritz, based on their answers to the queries I suggested: one shopping stop in each city visited, and ludicrous tipping recommendations. Look for a company that knows how China works and how to avoid this kind of shenanigans.

By all means take a tour in China, but do it with the eyes and not the wallet wide open.

Peter N-H
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Old Sep 10th, 2008, 07:19 AM
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Peter N-H is just incredible, isn't he? Amazingly detailed answers to every point - so impressive. I've been reading his stuff for ages and enjoying every twist and turn of his agile brain. The only thing is; the more I read his posts, the LESS I ever want to go to China.

Caveat lector, indeed.
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Old Sep 10th, 2008, 08:38 AM
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Oh, dogster - there I was looking forward to "Slipping along the Silk Road" and "Sweating through Sichuan" (the food, not the weather)! Please don't write off China - Peter's just pointing out the things to watch out for if you sign up for a tour. You'd do just fine, and have a whole lot more fun, on your own. Besides, aren't you running out of rivers in India? Time for the upper reaches of the Yangtze (not the gorges).

I've done it both ways, and solo is much the best. First trip was with the Smithsonian on a standard tourist itinerary. Pro: good hotels, good food, good tour director and study manager (IMO, of course). Con: expensive, lots of shopping ops, I felt like I was in a cocoon. Second was an Intrepid Silk Road trip. Pro: good itinerary, lots of freedom, only shopping ops I remember were in Hotan, cheap. Con: poor leader (Intrepid's can be good, but this one wasn't), one really bad hotel.

My third trip was seven weeks solo, with some bookings from CITS at the beginning as I was traveling over the National Day holiday (the Aussie outfit I used for Russia subcontracted me to CITS for China). CITS put me in tourist-class hotels and soft sleeper on the trains - I could for sure have done it for less.
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Old Sep 10th, 2008, 10:40 AM
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Unfortunately, wishing it were so won't make China any different from what it is. But it is a country of endless fascination, and never, ever dull.

Most of the unpleasantness (from the foreign visitor's point of view) centres around organised tourism. ersatz China (Yangshuo, etc.) and the 'must-see' sights. But these only account for a tiny fraction of a country absolutely littered with largely undiscovered pleasures easily reached by the independent traveller.

I've spent a few years there altogether, and there remains a great deal I want to see, and much I want to go back to again.

Peter N-H
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Old Sep 20th, 2008, 05:34 PM
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OK, Peter N-H, I'm the original poster and just got a chance to catch up on all the comments here. If not China Spree or Ritz Tours, which specific tour company do you recommend? I would prefer a tour rather than independent travel. And, I really like the itinerary of the Best Treasures trip with China Spree.
Sue
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Old Sep 20th, 2008, 06:12 PM
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Hi, I'd like to recommend TravelChinaguide or chinahighlights. Try to compare their service by asking them questions by email or phone.
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Old Sep 20th, 2008, 07:38 PM
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The two sites mentioned immediately above (which are getting alarmingly frequent mentions of late, to the point where it seems some who post may have a commercial connection with them) are precisely the kind you should avoid, for reasons already set out in this thread. And if the existing drawbacks with purchasing on-line with Chinese companies weren't enough, who books with spammers?

If you want a detailed analysis specific to China Spree, showing why you would be unwise to use that company, but which illustrates the problem with foreigner-targeting Chinese companies in general, see:

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...p;tid=35122014

Gross exploitation disguised as customer service.

As for choosing another (foreign) company, the criteria you might apply and specific questions you should ask have been set out in an earlier message above. There are those who suppress the tipping nonsense, who provide a foreign tour manager/leader who keeps things in line, and that almost completely avoid shopping stops. If there's a foreign expert leading the tour all the better, so you'll actually get some reliable information.

Of course all this costs more, or at least appears to do so. But if you're not wondering why the price of a tour is so cheap, the chances are that the total cost to you will be no more than it appears to be, and the value for money much higher.

Peter N-H
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Old Sep 20th, 2008, 08:38 PM
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Peter NH,

I was in the Travel Industry in the late 80's-early 90's so I am familiar with alot of what you are saying. I think we are all lucky to have an expert such as you, to give us direction.

There are many US tourists (and I am sure from other countries) whose comfort level is "an organized tour" to a place such as China. You have outlined some very valid points & I don't think this information could be found anywhere on the web. I do know alot of people who would be satisfied with a "planned" tour of China, not having to research hotel or restaurants or get around a strange city alone. And that is ok too, as long as they are aware of the pitfalls of such a trip beforehand.

This is what Travel Forums are designed for.
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Old Oct 6th, 2009, 10:00 AM
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We've been to China 2x now with ChinaSpree. Perhaps if we were younger we would have considered a trip without a tour but at 63 and 64 it's really nice to have everything planned out in advance and to have help with one's suitcase. I don't mind paying for the extra daily tip for the bus driver, guides, bellboys etc. Hey, the LGA bus driver who took us to JFK asked for a tip. Even with the tip addition the ChinaSpree trip is a great bargain considering we stayed at 4 and 5 star hotels, had all admissions and transportation included. I found that in the last trip which was a return for 7 of us, we visited an area close to Tibet and the local guide expressed their love for Tibetan Buddhism at a Tibetan Temple while the National Guide waited outside giving the local guide privacy to be relatively honest. As for food, I still feel guilty for sampling the donkey meat and have no idea what to do with a crispy duck head but I'd say the food probably authentic. I'm busily steaming veggies now to duplicate the flavor of the steamed veggies we had in the north-west areas we visited. As for shopping, we were brought to a government jade store where none of our group bought anything. That was the only official shopping site. Otherwise we were given free time at each tourist site to take pictures or bargain with vendors.
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