A 6,400-strong tour group landed in France last week after the billionaire boss of a Chinese conglomerate offered a free trip to over half of his company’s employees, costing more than 13 million euros (14.5 million USD) in total. The throng of visitors, 5,400 of whom arrived in France from China last week, takes the record as being the largest tour group to ever visit the country.
The company, Tiens, operates in tourism, trade and cosmetics. The 57-year-old president, Li Jinyuan, reportedly booked up to 140 hotels in Paris for the swarming tour group, members of which also flew in from Russia and Kenya, to celebrate the 20th birthday of Tiens.
According to Xinhua:
Christian Mantel, head of the French tourism development agency Atout France, said the authorities were pulling out all the stops to accommodate the wishes of the group, which is paying 13 million euros (US$14.5 million) for the trip which ends on Wednesday.
“And that’s without counting the shopping,” added Mantel.
The Tiens directors have relaxed in the most luxurious hotel rooms. Less elevated employees have been treated to three or four-star accommodation.
“We have mobilized public services as well as tourism professionals, hotels, restaurants, shops and designer brands,” said Mantel. “So far everything has gone smoothly, the feedback has been extremely positive.”
Imagine, if you dare, the clusterfuck that ensued as the massive group was herded from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower to Paris’s other famous attractions.
Also imagine this mob of blue and white hats filling up the Palais Nikaia to watch a Moulin Rouge performance when the group descended upon the southern resort town of Nice on Saturday. Some luxury department stores in the city reportedly closed their doors to all other customers so that the Tiens employees could browse items and splash out thousands “in peace”, according to AFP.
The group then traveled to Promenade des Anglais, where workers spelled out the phrase “Tiens’ dream is Nice in the Cote d’Azur”, creating possibly the world’s longest human chain.
If that doesn’t all sound horrible enough as it is, be reminded that the firm’s big-spending boss has been ensnared in some pretty nasty controversy. Hundreds of Tibetans staged protests across several Chinese cities in 2009 claiming to have been cheated in a pyramid scheme run by Tiens, and a group of 26 people representing 1,500 Tibetans were preparing a suit against the company and Li Jinyuan after claiming to have been scammed out of tens of thousands of dollars, Radio Free Asia reported.
Tsering Dhargyal [who is leading the appeal] said members of the group first reported being contacted by company officials on July 2, 2007, and said they had been “pushed” to accept an offer to invest.
“For an initial investment of 2,800 yuan (U.S. $410) from each individual, we were promised great prosperity in return. They called it a big family business, which is not only good for Tibetan people, but for the nation as a whole. In that way we collected money and joined the business,” Dhargyal said.
Dhargyal said TIENS explained to investors that it had no products to sell and instead generated business “through people.” […] “After getting the 2,800 yuan from each new recruit, we had nothing else to do. They promised that when we reached a certain [recruiting] stage, we would get a salary of 9,000 yuan (U.S. $1,300) monthly, but some of us even managed to reach the highest level and they didn’t pay … It was a complete scam,” he said.
According to group representatives, the investors were told by company officials to attend training classes in Xi’an, in China’s central Shaanxi province, but upon arrival the Tibetans received no instruction and had their identification cards taken away from them.
Members of the group in Xi’an say that local Chinese have threatened them and told them to leave, saying they do not belong there, but they refuse to return home without compensation.
The company has reportedly been running a similar scheme in Africa, telling Africans that Traditional Chinese Medicine and products offered by Tiens can cure HIV/AIDS, cancer and dozens of other illnesses.
Tiens, however, has maintained that it operates within the law, and its chairman Leh Zhao told reporters in 2009 that “We use network marketing to promote our products and it has nothing to do with pyramid schemes”.
Li (pictured above), a native of Cangzhou in Hebei Province, was listed as a billionaire on the Forbes rich list in 2011.