BEIJING, China – Beijing’s central hutong Nanluoguxiang has voluntarily applied to be stripped of its ranking as an A3-level government-recommended tourist site, saying it’s being overcrowded with tourist groups.
Traditional hutongs in Beijing are famous for their peaceful atmosphere and sense of nostalgia. But that’s certainly not the case with Nanluoguxiang.
The 7-century-old hutong in downtown Beijing is only about 800-meter long, but local tourist authorities say the narrow street is often clogged with up to 100,000 visitors in a single day during major holidays.
“According to the China National Tourism Administration, Nanluoguxiang is only large enough to safely accommodate 17,000 people. The issue of overcrowding poses a potential threat to public safety,” said Li Xuemin, director of tourism committee of Dongcheng District, Beijing.
Tourism isn’t the only thing that has exploded in this area. The number of stores here has almost tripled in the last ten years, with rents increasing seven fold.
The rent hikes have meant that now less than 10 percent of stores here sell genuine traditional Beijing food specialties or souvenirs.
By cancelling the A3 ranking, Nanluoguxiang is now closed to tourist groups, with only independent visitors permitted to enter.
We visited the hutong two weeks after the new regulations came into force and visitor numbers seemed to have reduced. But there are reports that some tourist groups, determined to visit the area, ask their guide to wait outside the alley so they can enter, apparently, as individuals.
Most visitors however say they support the new regulations.
Last year, another must-see site in the capital, the Forbidden City, imposed a daily cap of 80,000 visitors to maintain order.
Other top scenic draws including Hangzhou’s West Lake and Sichuan’s Jiuzhaigou have also limited visitor numbers to avoid overcrowding.
As Nanluoguxiang is still open to travelers without a cap on numbers, it remains to be seen whether or not banning groups will help with overcrowding.