SANYA, Dec. 10 (Xinhua) - On China's southernmost island province of Hainan, the tropical beach resort city of Sanya would be the perfect choice for those wanting to escape the harsh winter in the north were it not for the tourist scams that plague the island.
Restaurants charge exorbitant prices after meals are ordered. Taxi drivers make inconvenient detours for high fares. And local guides make forced stops to earn commission.
But all that is now changing.
In October the city established the country's first tourist police, to win back the hearts of tourists.
Disguised as a tourist Qin Kaishou together with his fellow policemen went to a seafood restaurant on Youyi Road.
Qin, 26, stared at the waiter who was recording plate numbers of taxis that dropped customers to dine.
"The industry and commerce sectors have reported the restaurant offering kickbacks to taxi drivers for bringing customers. The money can reach up to 40 percent of the bill," he said.
A taxi driver can get up to 20,000 yuan (2,900 U.S. dollars) commission every day during peak season, that is a monthly income for a middle manager in many companies, he said.
After three hours, Qin finally saw the restaurant owner giving cash to a taxi driver.
A total of 15 people, including two restaurant owners, eight waiters and two taxi drivers, were caught by Qin's team and over 20,000 yuan in kickbacks was seized.
The case is among over 200 cases that have been closed by the tourist police since they started. More than 250 people have been detained, leading to a 50 percent reduction in complaints from tourists, the city public security bureau said
"In major tourism resorts such as Tianyahaijiao, or the End of the Earth, tourist police will be there in 15 minutes if needed," said Chen Xiaokun, head of the bureau.
They have also opened a hot line -- 12301, which tourists can call for help.
Tourist police were not invented by China. There are tourist police in countries such as Greece, Thailand, Russia and Egypt where tourism is a major industry. They are responsible for information inquiries, lost and found, fraud complaints and other tourist issues.
"What we are trying to do is let tourists feel at ease here," Qin said.
The special squad, composed of over 40 members, has also made those working in the tourism industry more careful in their work.
Guide Zhuo Cai (a pseudonym), said he and his colleagues now act cautiously in Sanya for fear of complaints.
"My colleagues often tell clients to communicate with them regarding any unpleasant experience instead of calling the police," he said.
According to the China National Tourism Administration, as of October, tourists police teams have been established in 34 Chinese cities and counties, including Lijiang, Xiamen and Qinhuangdao cities.
Li Jinzao, head of the administration, said tourist police are an enforcement innovation.
"With tourist police coordinating with different related departments and organizing joint enforcement, tourists' rights are better protected," he said.