New Zealand cracks down on Asian tourist rip-off

WELLINGTON (AFP) - New Zealand's consumer watchdog has launched a crackdown on rogue traders ripping off tourists from Asia by selling them fake goods at a vastly inflated prices.

One company imported alpaca rugs worth US$1,600 (S$2,000) each before re-labelling them as New Zealand products and selling them to unsuspecting package tourists for up to US$8,000 apiece.

Another firm admitted selling duvets containing "100 per cent New Zealand merino lamb wool" for up to US$1,000 when they knew the product was not merino wool and was worth only about US$70.

Two companies and two individuals have so far been convicted and fined a total of NZ$259,000 (S$270,000) for targeting tourists from China, Korea and Taiwan on organised tours, Commerce Commission chairman Mark Berry said Tuesday.

A total of eight firms and seven individuals have so far been charged with mis-selling high-priced souvenir items.

The tourists "paid significantly more" for items such as alpaca rugs and merino or alpaca duvets than they were actually worth, Mr Berry said.

"To sell items as New Zealand made when they are not, or knowingly label and sell items as 100 per cent alpaca or merino wool when they are not, is deliberately misleading buyers.

"The Commission's role is to protect the interest of consumers. In this case tourists, who represent a valuable segment of the country's economy, have been deliberately targeted and harmed by this conduct."

Most of the companies charged were based in the central North Island tourist city of Rotorua.

Tourism is a key sector of the New Zealand economy with international tourists providing 18 per cent of the country's export earnings in 2010.

China is listed as a target market with the number of Chinese visitors last year rising 38 per cent from 2011 to 208,000.