SANYA, Hainan - Visitors chased the warm sunshine to Hainan province, the tropical resort island during the weeklong Spring Festival holiday, but many came back in a bad mood after being overcharged and swindled.
A family of three had a meal at a street restaurant in Sanya, a major tourist destination in Hainan. Three ordinary dishes cost them 4,000 yuan ($630).
A man at the next table asked the restaurant owner what a fish cost. He was forced to pay more than 6,000 yuan for the fish, weighing about 5.5 kilograms, because the owner killed it to serve him even though he hadn't ordered it.
After the story was posted on Sina weibo, a popular micro-blogging website, on Saturday by Luo Di, a friend of the family's, thousands of netizens commented on it, claiming that they have had similar experiences in Hainan.
There are many tales of tourists to Hainan being cheated, especially in winter, when the sunshine attracts people from colder parts of China.
Wang Youdu, who worked in Hainan for three years, said non-locals always had to pay higher prices.
"The owners always did some trick with the scales. Once at a street stall in Sanya, I found my cell phone weighed 2 kilos on the scales."
He added that he was once pressured into having his fortune told and after being surrounded by seven people who made him pay more than 600 yuan for the service.
Ma Yili, an actress, said on Saturday on her weibo account that two of her assistants were asked to pay 800 yuan for two simple dishes this winter.
Strange enough, the Sanya government's official Sina weibo site said on Sunday that it had not had any overcharging complaints from visitors during the holiday. However, after receiving a flood of ironic comments and complaints from netizens, it corrected itself on Monday to say they had not received complaints about street seafood stalls.
"Some shop owners would prefer to cheat foreigners," said Wang Xingbin, a former professor at Beijing International Studies University's School of Tourism, adding that once he paid more than 5,000 yuan for a regular supper with his three Spanish friends in Sanya.
"Usually, individual visitors and those guided by unqualified travel agencies might be subjected to more cheats," said Zhuo Mengsi, who has been a tour guide on trips to Hainan for three years. "We (guides from authorized travel agencies) give our tourists tips on how to avoid being cheated."
The local administration bureau for industry and commerce started an investigation into the case of Luo Di's friend on Sunday. Although the owner denied the accusation, business was suspended at his stall.
An official surnamed Sun, who is in charge of publicity in Sanya, said the government will further investigate and it will conduct more inspections to prevent similar cases.
"Strict inspections and harsh punishment after visitors' reports only work for a short period," said Wang Xingbin. "The root of the cheating visitors lies in that local people didn't get what they deserved during the rapid development of tourism."
"Ticket revenues go to the government and some property developers get huge benefits from the rising real estate market, leaving local people little money to make. They have to get illegal money from the visitors pouring in," he said. "That can also explain cases of overcharging in tourist resorts in other areas of China."
More than 1 million tourists flooded to Hainan during the Spring Festival holiday, bringing more than 4.3 billion yuan in tourism-related revenues, up by 61 percent year-on-year, according to Hainan's tourism office.