A group of Chinese tourists in New Zealand say they were conned by a phony Auckland tour operator who promised a "grand Christmas buffet" and then took them all to eat at a soup kitchen.
When the group arrived at the City Mission Christmas lunch, the guide told them the event was a "buffet treat" the government arranged every year for visitors and residents. In reality, it was a charity event for people who couldn't afford a meal on Christmas.
"I was shocked to find out later from media reports that the Christmas lunch was a charity lunch for the poor and homeless, and that most of the places we had been taken to were free and were not meant for tourists," said Ming Xi, a tourist in his 50s, to the New Zealand Herald.
Xi said he was approached by a Mandarin-speaking tour guide from Lucky Jade Sightseeing and offered a special discount Christmas tour that would cost $88 per person per day, including all meals and activity fees.
The tour was to include visits to a wildlife preserve, a farm park, gardens, and a geyser park. The meals were promised to be a "Kiwi barbecue," "cultural dinner," and the Christmas buffet. But the group was actually just taken to free public parks and meals.
The barbecue was a sausage fry on a public barbecue pit. The "cultural dinner" was a vegetarian meal served by an Indian spiritual group, which required the tourists to sing and dance for their supper.
Tourism New Zealand said there was no licensed tour company called Lucky Jade Sightseeing, and that licensed tour operators had to follow a strict code of conduct that does not involve feeding tourists at soup kitchens.
"Charges for services or entrance to attractions, activities, venues or other places which are free of charge is strictly prohibited under the code," said Chris Roberts, corporate affairs general manager for Tourism New Zealand.