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Toilet upgrade to woo tourists

Updated: Feb 2, 2018 China Daily Europe Print
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Pleasant experiences can improve living standards as well as have significant impact on the travel industry, experts say

In order to achieve its goal of becoming an internationally recognized travel destination, Shanghai has embarked on a number of tourism projects, such as Disneyland.

But its efforts do not just include high-profile venues - the city has also preened itself in other areas closely related to daily life.

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The Wangjiangyi No 001 toilet located in the Lujiazui area of Shanghai stands out as a tourist attraction. It has a leisure space where people can enjoy the scenery of the nearby river side region. Photos by Gao Erqiang / China Daily

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A man leaves after using an old-style public restroom located in Ruikangli on 828 East Beijing Road in Shanghai.

Toilets, for instance, are an integral part of the city's strategy to draw tourists.

For the past three years, Shanghai's authorities have been going to great lengths to improve the state of the city's public toilets. According to the Shanghai Working Committee on Children and Women, there were 8,700 public toilets in operation in the city as of the end of last year, among which 2,600 were rated as environmentally friendly.

In a public commentary by Wan Zhe, chief economist at the International Cooperation Center, which is affiliated with the National Development and Reform Commission, toilets were said to have a significant impact on the tourism economy.

The move to create better spaces for people to relieve themselves is in line with the central government's call for a "toilet revolution" in the country. During a meeting with the country's tourism administrators and companies in late November, President Xi Jinping applauded their efforts in improving the state of public toilets all over the country, stressing that poorly maintained restrooms can impair the standard of living.

In Shanghai, some of the public restrooms have even been turned into tourist attractions. For example, the panda-themed toilet at Shanghai Zoo was widely recognized last year as one of the best in the city. The move to include information about pandas on the walls of the restroom was applauded by children and their parents.

Meanwhile, the Duolun Road public toilet, which is located at the east entrance of Luxun Park in northeastern Shanghai, was rated as the most beautiful toilet in the city for three consecutive years since 2014. The 38-square-meter space features a special ceiling that helps to ventilate the area naturally, and it even provides commonly available medications, reading glasses and umbrellas for users.

There are even public toilets in Shanghai that are equipped with electronic screens that show how long a person has been inside a cubicle. Besides informing other users whether a cubicle is currently being used, this system allows staff to check on those who have been in the cubicle for unusually long periods of time.

But administrators are still not quite satisfied with the current state of Shanghai's toilets. Zhang Feng, director of Shanghai's environmental quality monitoring center, says that one of the major goals in the next three years will be to significantly increase the number of unisex toilets. There are currently only about 250 of them.

He says that such toilets will be able to cut down on the waiting time at women's toilets and be beneficial to families with senior citizens and underage children who require assistance.

Wu Jianguo, inspector at the Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration, said during a government meeting at the beginning of December that the city should look to increase the number of public toilets and improve user experiences over the next three years.

Improving the standard of public restrooms, enhancing management and services, adopting technology and educating users were also cited as priorities.

Shanghai is not the first to emphasize the upgrading of public toilets. Hans Wall, the founder of Berlin-based outdoor advertiser Wall AG, has been infusing color into toilets in Germany since the early 1990s, turning many of them into landmarks. Some of these restrooms have become so renowned internationally that major companies such as Apple, Samsung and Chanel have featured them in their commercials.

It is estimated that such toilets in five European cities, including Berlin and Frankfurt, generate at least 30 million euros ($35 million; £26 million) in profit every year.

The Disease Prevention and Control Bureau of the National Health and Family Planning Commission of China has also echoed the fact that well-designed toilets represent a worthwhile investment.

In a 2014 report, the bureau pointed out that the profit gained from renovating a public toilet in the country, especially in rural areas, was five times the cost. Toilets generally earn income through entrance fees and leasing of advertising space.

In light of this, the General Office of the State Council released a guideline to increase tourist investment and consumption last August. One of the main objectives was the establishment of more public toilets in tourist destinations around the country.

By the end of August last year, about 29,500 tourist-friendly toilets in such locations were built or renovated.

Companies such as China Everbright Real Estate, Jiangsu Huahong New Energy Co and Beijing Landwasher Technology Development have since jumped at this opportunity.

For instance, Landwasher Technology is involved in a toilet renovation project in Tibet that started in 2016. The company's flush-free technology is said to be ideal for such regions where the plumbing system is poor.

Wu Hao, general manager of Landwasher, says that the launch of the "toilet revolution" has resulted in a 50 percent increase in the company's sales. He adds that the national initiative has been a boon for small companies like his.

"Currently, small privately owned technology companies are the major contributors to innovation in environmental protection technology and toilet renovation in China. They have helped to optimize the industrial structure," he says.

"The value chain related to public toilets is larger than most of us can see. First of all, it can help to boost revenue at tourist attractions by more than 10 billion yuan. Furthermore, the living standards in the rural areas in China can be improved," he adds.

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