Paradise with prices from hell

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 February, 2012, 12:00am


Related topics

A tourist from Liaoning received a shock when he was handed a receipt for his breakfast in Hainan over the Lunar New Year holiday. It wasn't a typo - the ordinary glass of milk he'd ordered cost 110 yuan (HK$135).

Pei Chuan, from Anshan, posted a photo of the receipt, from a restaurant in Sanya, on his microblog on Sunday. It has since drawn millions of views while serving as more evidence of price-gouging in the tropical island province.

The pricey milk, coupled with mounting reports about 6,000 yuan fish, 1,000 yuan crab and taxi cabs with metres stopped, have set off a firestorm of doubt over the government's plan to turn the relatively backward island into an international tourist destination by 2020.

While the government is pushing for the construction of luxury hotels and resorts at breakneck speed, it has neglected some basics needs of low-income residents of the island, according to some tourism experts. They say visitors will never feel safe or comfortable in Hainan if they are surrounded by locals who are poor and bitter.

Pei could not be reached for comment yesterday, but he was quoted by the Liaoshen Evening News as saying that the glass of milk was one of many rips-offs that he encountered during his five-day visit.

The same restaurant charged him 99 yuan for a bowl of congee, and in another restaurant he asked the price of shrimp and was told it was 2,000 yuan.

Pei and two friends spent more than 20,000 yuan each during the trip, much more than their budget.

'I won't dare return to Sanya,' he said.

The Sanya government said it would punish the restaurant if Pei could provide 'more solid' evidence of deceit.

An official with the city's pricing bureau said by phone yesterday that they would like to take Pei's complaint seriously, but the receipt, which didn't feature a tax bureau stamp, might not be enough.

'Customers must check the prices on menus carefully before they order and keep an official receipt after dining,' the official said, who declined to be named.

Professor Ma Bo, head of Qingdao University's school of tourism, said by phone yesterday that the provincial government had paid too much attention to building the mainland's biggest and priciest hotels while ignoring the basic needs of local residents.

When the provincial government announced in 2010 its goal of turning the island into a global tourism destination within a decade, many experts in the industry shook their heads, Ma said.

According to the local government website, in Sanya alone there are a dozen five-star hotels and more than 20 under construction. The scale and density of luxury hotels and resorts has exceeded that found in much richer places such as Shanghai and Beijing.

The provincial government made building more hotels a central goal this year.

'The government promotes tourism as a pillar industry, but only a tiny portion of the population has something to do with it. Besides a privileged few, most people have not benefited from the great leap forward,' Ma said.

'If so many locals feel poor and bitter, you can' expect them to treat tourists with warmth and honesty.

'Provincial leaders should slow down their dance with real estate developers and listen to the outcry of the poor.'