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Upgraded and More Comfortable
Progress in public lavatories improves both tourist experiences and rural residents' lives
By Pan Xiaoqiao  ·  2017-12-22  ·   Source: | NO. 52 DECEMBER 28, 2017

Photos taken on November 28 show the exterior and interior of a toilet in the China West Film Studio, a tourist attraction in Yinchuan, northwest China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (XINHUA)

On a recent visit to the Guifeng scenic area, located in Shangrao City of east China's Jiangxi Province, local resident Ren Yan was most impressed by something other than the natural environment. "Public lavatories in Guifeng are quite something," Ren exclaimed.

In the past, the scenic area's public lavatories were not only dirty and smelly, but also few and far between, so tourists had to wait a long time for their turn. Today, the area is equipped with 13 public loos, and every one of them is renovated and upgraded so that they are not only clean and convenient, but also display distinctive local features.

In 2016, the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) released an honor roll, and the Guifeng scenic area was on the list thanks to its efforts to improve its public lavatories as part of the "toilet revolution" that is sweeping the country. In recent years, Shangrao has done a lot to increase the number of public lavatories in scenic areas, while ensuring that they are clean and effectively managed. Guifeng's progress is the epitome of what has happened in China's tourism industry since the "toilet revolution" was initiated in 2015.

Why "toilet revolution"?

On the first day following the Spring Festival Holiday of 2015, the CNTA launched a "toilet revolution" with the aim of renovating lavatories in the tourism sector across the country.

The move came at a time when the state of lavatories was increasingly hampering further development of the industry. According to the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report of the 2013 World Economic Forum, China's tourism sector ranked 82nd in terms of overall hygiene and 99th for its public lavatories.

Both Chinese nationals and foreign tourists were disgusted, and in some places in China, they are still put off by public lavatories. Loos could often be located by nose, as they were usually smelly. Moreover, there were not enough of them: In some remote areas, not a single public lavatory could be seen for hours while driving. The lack of public lavatories was especially annoying at scenic hotspots in peak seasons, forcing women in particular to wait in long queues for their turn.

Every year, domestic and foreign visitors undertake some 4 billion trips in China, and it's estimated that on average, these travelers use lavatories eight times each per trip. Therefore, toilets are by no means a trivial thing for China's overall tourism industry.

Recent years have seen rapid development of tourism, with huge investments in the building of scenic spots and luxury hotels. However, it's quite possible that grungy loos in scenic spots may reverse all the efforts. This embarrassing situation facing the tourism industry thus makes a "toilet revolution" urgent.

The three-year loo-upgrading program by the CNTA aims to construct, expand and renovate 57,000 lavatories in the tourism sector. By the end of 2017, all places frequented by tourists—whether they be scenic spots, transportation centers, restaurants or entertainment venues—should have sufficient, clean, odorless, free-of-charge and well-managed public lavatories.

By the end of October, 68,000 tourist lavatories had been constructed and renovated, surpassing the originally set target. In many places, public lavatories are better designed than in the past, with baby care rooms and specially designed third toilets so that children, the elderly and people with disabilities can conveniently use the facilities with the help of their companions. Today, the quality of public lavatories has been incorporated into the rating system for scenic spots.

Overall progress

Today, toilet upgrading is listed as a project concerning people's well-being and is therefore being stressed as never before. It's widely recognized that the state of its public lavatories well reflects how developed a city is.

According to Liu Hailong, who lives in a relatively old residential community in Beijing's Dongcheng District, the public lavatory near his home was the most hated place in the neighborhood in the past. Not only did people have to cover their noses when passing by, but while using the facility in winter, they risked slipping on the ice which formed around the toilet bowl.

"Several days ago, when I came back from a trip outside Beijing, I found that no unpleasant smell wafting from the lavatory, so I went to have a look. It surprised me that the floor is now covered by glazed tiles and every squatting pan is separated from others with partitions," said Liu. "Besides, deodorant liquid is sprayed into the pans. Nowadays, we don't need to cover our noses or speed up while passing by."

Despite progress made, public loos in some hutongs are still in poor condition. Dongcheng District has 1,339 public lavatories, and as an important part of its overall environmental improvement scheme, the district plans to upgrade 896 old public lavatories in two years.

While public lavatories in the tourism sector and cities nationwide undergo an overhaul, the "toilet revolution" has no intention of leaving out China's vast rural areas.

President Xi Jinping said in November while commenting on the achievement of the "toilet revolution" in the tourism sector that the state of China's lavatories is no small matter; rather it is an important part of the nation's overall development. Not only should public lavatories in scenic spots and cities be well constructed and renovated, but rural areas should also have clean and upgraded lavatories, as poor quality lavatories in rural areas can adversely affect the local population's quality of life.

Mentioning lavatories in China's vast rural areas likely brings to mind images of filthy facilities such as bucket loos, open pits and dry pail latrines. Indeed, in some areas, the so-called lavatory is just two big stones or an open pit surrounded by dry corn stalks. For most people living in rural areas, using toilets has long been a big headache.

Take for example the dry pail latrines, which are widely used in north China. It's not just that the smell is terrible; they also provide a breeding ground for flies, mosquitoes and other pests, posing risks to human health. Besides, in rural areas, how to deal with feces has always been a hard nut to crack.

The CNTA's report on the "toilet revolution" issued in May 2017 reveals that in China's rural areas, 80 percent of infectious diseases are caused by feces pollution and unclean drinking water. Excrement is responsible for the outbreak of more than 30 infectious diseases, with diarrhea, cholera and hepatitis the most common ones.

Like many villages in China, Jinlong Village of Daguan Town in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality is a beneficiary of the latest "toilet revolution."

In the past, villagers' lavatories were built with two wooden planks in pigsties. Today, locals have bathrooms covered by white glazed tiles and equipped with a squatting pan, a water tank and a sink.

"The state of toilets directly affects villagers' health," said Wang Hua, an official in Daguan Town, where every household has had their lavatory renovated with financial support from the local government.

Although villagers understood that upgrading their toilets would be good for their health, at first, they still hesitated. "When the program was first announced, we encountered huge obstacles," said Wang. "Some [locals] liked the dry pail latrines."

In order to promote the new toilets, modern septic tanks were installed, so that after being treated, the remains of feces can be used as natural organic fertilizers. "In the 'toilet revolution,' it's important to find solutions suitable for local conditions," said Wang. The renovation of lavatories triggered other environment improvement measures in the village, such as trash classification for recycling.

Sustaining the efforts

China is a vast nation whose many regions exhibit huge diversity in terms of terrain, climate, dialects, food, customs and economic development. On the whole, toilet construction and management in China are still at a low level, and is one of the weakest parts in China's public services. As CNTA Chairman Li Jinzao pointed out, a three-year upgrading program cannot be expected to fundamentally fix China's toilet problems.

President Xi has long stressed the importance of sustained efforts to push forward the "toilet revolution," demanding tailored measures to address these problems.

Various policies have been issued to support and sustain this program. As Li revealed in a "toilet revolution" conference in early 2017, the last two years have seen the Ministry of Finance allocate 1.04 billion yuan ($158 million) for toilet improvement, and local governments have contributed more than 20 billion yuan ($3 billion).

In November, the CNTA unveiled a new three-year action plan for the "toilet revolution," under which 640,000 tourist lavatories will be built from 2018 to 2020. The campaign is to be implemented in accordance with local conditions, and in particular, the focus will be on the central and western regions and poor rural areas.

Copyedited by Chris Surtees

Comments to panxiaoqiao@bjreview.com

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