Choosing a tour operator in Beijing can be tricky. There are more scams than real operators, and there seem to always be hidden costs and at-the-end add on costs. This adds a frustrating element to travel in China, and is an ongoing problem with tourism in the Middle Kingdom. Still, there are a few ways to protect yourself.
Sadly, many fake, rip-off agencies target foreigners in the false belief that all foreigners are rich and don’t mind spending more money. Since tourists are often unaware that they need to be so vigilant about costs and hidden fees, they feel uncomfortable at the end when confronted with a massive bill they didn’t agree to. Your best bet is to stick to the “when in Rome” concept and ask about every detail and every cost before you agree to anything. You ask the price in advance for everything from a complete package to a cab ride without a meter.
There is no surefire way to make sure you’re not getting scammed though. While many great tour leaders have gone to school in order to be licensed tour guides, there are many more who have fake diplomas. If your guide speaks decent English, knows the facts and treats you with respect and not like a walking purse it doesn’t really matter if they are certified. Most “real” tour guides are women around the age of 24-30. Most older and especially older male tour guides are cons, but that doesn’t mean they are not also great at talking about Chinese history and leading you around the city. Use your best judgment when choosing a guide, and especially negotiate the price up front, especially with guides you find on-site, like at the Forbidden City or Great Wall. RMB30 an hour is reasonable for a real guide, if they demand much more than that you can start to suspect a con. The highest you should pay is RMB50, and that’s already pushing the ridiculous number. Paying more means you’re encouraging more fake guides to jump into the industry, and continues to drive prices up.