Hainan faces image problem to become "China's Hawaii"

Wed Jan 6, 2010 10:07am EST
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By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - China's tropical southern island of Hainan, often touted as the country's answer to Hawaii, faces an image problem in becoming a true global resort due to poor service standards and a festering territorial dispute.

Late last year, the government unveiled plans to turn Hainan, once a lonely place of exile, into a top international tourist destination by 2020, hoping to lure visitors with its long, sandy beaches, crystal clear seas and year-round sunshine.

But it faces an uphill struggle, admitted Hainan's provincial governor, Luo Baoming, due to persistent problems with tourists being ripped-off, sold fake goods or otherwise encountering lamentable service standards.

"Frankly speaking, receiving complaints like this makes you both pained and angry," Luo told a news conference in Beijing.

"It blackens the name of tourism in Hainan," he added. "If we can't solve this issue, or can't tackle it effectively enough, we won't be able to reach even the lowest threshold for becoming an international tourist island."

Such complaints in China's tourist industry are not new, and Chinese newspapers regularly feature horror stories of tour groups dumped by the sides of roads by unscrupulous tour operators or forced to buy expensive knick-knacks.

A glance at some reader comments on official news agency Xinhua's website (www.xinhuanet.com) on Hainan's plans showed just what a problem the government has to deal with.

"Sure, Hainan has great natural conditions, but the tourist market is a mess, there is a serious problem with tourists being cheated, and the government has a poor reputation at managing things," wrote one reader called "Clumsy Stone."   Continued...

<p>Hundreds of tourists visit Dadonghai beach in Sanya, Hainan province January 6, 2010. REUTERS/China Daily</p>