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In Southern California, tour guides battle over Chinese visitors

Groups from the Asian nation increasingly are bringing along their escorts, angering Southland-based guides who say they are more qualified and cost less. The dispute has grown into confrontations.

November 09, 2010|By Hugo Martín and David Pierson, Los Angeles Times

"We feel a responsibility to show the Chinese tourists the laws, history and culture of this country," said tour guide Scott Wu, 47, of Rowland Heights.

What's more, Wu and others also allege that by collecting a salary in the U.S., the Chinese tour leaders are violating American labor laws. Federal officials dispute that claim.

"Generally speaking, the use of overseas-based tour guides does not violate U.S. employment laws, provided the guides enter the United States on valid visas and their salaries and contracts originate abroad," U.S. immigration spokeswoman Virginia Kice said.

Confrontations between American and Chinese tour leaders appear to be unique to Southern California, said Lisa Simon, president of the National Tour Assn., a trade group. But American tour guides across the country have been complaining about losing work to visiting Chinese tour leaders, she said.

"It's not a problem that is isolated to L.A.," she said.

Wu, the tour guide from Rowland Heights, said he heard that fights had broken out between Southland-based tour guides and those coming from China at Universal Studios Hollywood and at Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, but he was not there at the time and declined to judge who was at fault.

"It happened," he said. "We cannot say which one is right and which is wrong."

Wu and other Southern California tour guides have documented the loss of business by keeping track of the Chinese tour groups that have hired them, only to cancel the contracts at the last minute.

Fed up with losing business, Wang and others began to stake out LAX and hotels where the Chinese tourists were scheduled to arrive. Using cellphones and two-way radios, they have launched six or seven such intercept operations since September 2009.

During the recent confrontation at LAX, Wang questioned whether Colvin had the right to work in the U.S. — prompting Colvin to flash her U.S. passport.

Colvin said she works as a tour guide in the U.S. on a part-time basis. "I'm professional," she said. "I pay my taxes."

But Wang wasn't buying it. He handed out his rate sheet and phone number to the Chinese tourists, saying he didn't want them to be overcharged to see local attractions.

Colvin, angry at the suggestions she was cheating her clients, first threatened to call the police on Wang. But instead she directed the tourists to the outside curb to wait for a bus to their hotel.

By then, Wang was barking into his walkie-talkie to two other guides waiting in separate vehicles nearby, ready to follow the tourists to their hotel, the Crystal Casino & Hotel in Compton.

"Pick me up, they're leaving," Wang said into his handset.

After the tourists left the airport, Wang said he got a call from one of the Chinese visitors, asking to meet later at the hotel.

When Wang and five other local guides arrived at the hotel, several of the Chinese tourists they had met earlier at the baggage carrousel said they wanted to see the Grand Canyon but they feared being overcharged.

Wang and his colleagues don't work in Arizona but said they did the next best thing.

"We gave them the name of a local company who will give them a good local price," he said.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

david.pierson@latimes.com

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