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Hainan - Beach Paradise or Tourist Trap

Tourists walk towards a 108-meter high Buddhist statue at Nanshan Cultural Center, about 60km (37 miles) west of Sanya, in south China's Hainan Island province. (file photo)

Hainan Island

  • 33,920 square kilometers
  • Population: 8,671,518
  • In 2008, 20.6 million tourists visited Hainan, with 979,300 visitors coming from overseas
  • In 2010, 25.87 million tourists visited Hainan, with 663,000 visitors coming from overseas
  • GDP 2009 was $24 billion, or $2,805 per capita
  • GDP 2010 was $30.3 billion, or $3,520 per capita
  • 2012 Spring Festival week visitors to Sanya: 484,000
  • Resident population of Sanya: 685,000
  • Spring Festival 2012 tourism revenue: $527,000,000

Chinese authorities have been trying to turn the southern island of Hainan into a mecca for beach lovers and sun worshippers, but after Chinese citizens flocked there for January's Spring Festival, it became notorious for exorbitant prices and moneymaking scams.

State media reported that a seafood restaurant in the resort city of Sanya was forced by authorities to close down after a story circulated on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, that staff members had charged one family around $600 for a meal.

The author also said staff members at that restaurant also bullied another patron into paying nearly $1,000 for a dish he had not ordered.

That story sparked a flood of similar complaints among Weibo users who said they had been overcharged, misled, or swindled by the merchants and taxi drivers of Sanya.

Experts say the trend is due partly to the rapid growth of the tourism industry on the island, after Chinese officials approved a plan two years ago to encourage commercial development and make Hainan an international destination. Islanders, who once farmed or fished for a living, now have the opportunity to make fast money and, in some cases, to set their own prices.

Sanya's local officials have announced the city is launching a three-month crackdown on price-gouging in the seafood market. Local communist party chief Jiang Sixian has apologized for the scandal, saying local authorities have a "zero tolerance" policy for fraud.

State media accounts say authorities in Hainan have now set price guidelines for seafood, taxi fares and hotel rates.