Guangzhou newly-wed Sara had been hoping for a private holiday when she landed at a Maldives luxury resort with her husband in March. But when six other Chinese “couples”- among them a elderly woman and her adult son - showed up at a sunset dinner, Sara was outraged.
The dinner was advertised by the hotel as exclusively for newly-weds.
“How could they have been so shameless just for a free meal?” the woman who was identified only as Sara later vented on her microblog.
Sara told of one couple who were apparently vacationing with their child. They were later confronted by hotel staff.
“How can you possibly be on a honeymoon when your child is already so big?” they were asked, according to Sara's weibo post. The couple were asked to show their marriage certificate.
The husband produced a copy of their certificate, while shouting in Chinese: “Of course it’s our honeymoon. Can’t you read? You trash.”
The fake honeymoon story shocked thousands of China’s social media users, who criticised the “uncivilised behaviour” of the holidaymakers and even called for a "human flesh search" to locate the culprits.
The six “couples”, who Sara said appeared to be related, had booked their vacations through a travel agent, like a majority of Chinese tourists vacationing abroad.
To win customers, more Chinese travel agents are encouraging or even assisting their clients to fake marriage documents to qualify for honeymoon perks offered by Maldives resorts, said Jenny Wang, a Beijing-based Maldives vacation agent.
Offers include free meals, a complimentary visit to a spa, a basket of fruit or a bottle of champagne, depending on the resort. Most resorts require tourists to apply within six months of their marriage date. But marriage certificates can be easily manipulated on computers, and agents don’t have to break a sweat faking documents for clients.
Wang admitted that she had lost dozens of clients to her competitors simply because she wasn’t willing to “help”.
“Some people are ready to take any advantage they can,” she said.
She said resorts have had Chinese sisters posing as newly-weds because same-sex couples are also entitled to the honeymoon offers. But such couples are usually fake since it's no secret that gay marriage is not legal in China, Wang said.
Until recently, most resorts have appeared tolerant about fraudulent honeymooners, which account for about 50 per cent of all tourists on honeymoon packages, according to Wang's estimate.
But apparently some resorts have finally had enough.
In a letter issued to travel agents last week by luxury Maldives resort Niyama, obtained by the South China Morning Post, honeymoon bookings must now show proof.
“It has been brought to our attention recently that honeymoon bookings are being made and benefits requested for clients that evidently are not on their honeymoon i.e./ mother and daughters, sister etc,” reads the letter.
Agents must submit a copy of tourists' marriage certificates for future bookings. Wang said she had received similar requests from at least one other resort.
Helen Bolton, director of sales at Niyama, told the Post that they have had instances where "sisters and mother and daughters were booked by the agents on the honeymoon package".
The Maldives, which reportedly receives its largest number of tourists from China, is becoming increasingly popular among China's burgeoning middle-class vacationers, who are said to be raucous and tend to travel in groups. Some tourists boycotted a Maldives resort this year after it allegedly withdrew electric kettles from its rooms to prevent Chinese visitors from cooking instant noodles.
This month China's Vice-Premier Wang Yang admitted that dire manners and "uncivilised behaviour" of tourists are harming China's image.