Chinese residents hail the government's decision to turn Hainan into an international tourist destination. Officials, potential tourists, tour guides and Hainan locals shared their opinions on the Central Government's decision with Beijing Review.
Wei Liucheng (Secretary of the CPC Committee of Hainan Province):
As Hainan embarks on a journey to build itself into an international tourist destination, the local government is determined to make several major moves in 2010.
First, we will hold the first Boao International Tourism Forum in March, invite large-scale commercial retailers to build duty free shops on the island and start constructing major tourist projects, such as a space flight theme park and a tropical marine park.
We will completely revamp the island's infrastructure, modify itinerary and make significant improvements to public toilets in major tourist destinations. Security and sanitation efforts in urban and rural areas will also be improved. Investment will also be made to build multi-language travel websites on the Internet and support the development of pollution-free hi-tech industries, as well as agriculture.
The ultimate purpose of the whole plan to build Hainan into an international tourist destination is to lift the local people's living standards. To achieve this goal, the government will commit 55 percent of the newly added government revenue to resolving problems closely related to people's lives.
Environmental protection is one of our greatest concerns in the development process. Indeed, Hainan's GDP will be trimmed if we put more efforts into maintaining ecological balance. But we must always keep in mind that the beautiful natural scenery invaluable to our people is also the most important source of income. Hainan is promoting the development of a low-carbon economy across the island.
According to the State Council, the modern service industry and tertiary industry will account for 60 percent of Hainan's GDP by 2020—reaching the level of that of a developed country.
By using "international" to describe Hainan's goal, we have been striving to live up to those standards. In terms of city planning, services and infrastructure, we refer to relevant international standards.
Most of the existing 40 five-star hotels and the other 20 five-star hotels under construction are managed by multinational hotel groups with international visions and international standards.
But it will take time to teach the local people how to speak foreign languages and promote the overall quality of local residents.
Hu Zucai (senior official at the National Development and Reform Commission):
There are three distinct features about Hainan as an international tourist destination.
Hainan is the only tropical island province in China, bestowed with a sound environment and unique tropical tourist resources. After years of preliminary development, it has already laid a solid foundation for further development and opening to foreign tourists.
Hainan is the biggest special economic zone in the country, which enables it to reform and innovate its system with few limitations. To make a major breakthrough in economic development, Hainan must learn from internationally accepted experiences while making bold explorations to develop more tourist products. This can not only sharpen the island's competitiveness in the international market, but also provide valuable experiences to the development of the tourist industry throughout the country.
The ecological beauty is the most prominent advantage Hainan has compared to other Chinese provinces. When promoting tourism, the local government and people should also attach great significance to environmental protection.
Chen Qi (veteran tour guide with the Hainan Bureau of China International Travel Service):
A lot needs to be done before Hainan can really be called an "international" tourist destination.
As a local resident, I really appreciate what nature has granted us. In terms of natural environment, Hainan is as refreshing as those of the Maldives and Phuket. But to match the international standard, Hainan must take serious efforts to upgrade its hardware infrastructure and software—mainly the people's quality of living.
We should build a number of large entertainment projects or theme parks so that when people leave here they have something to remember other than our beautiful scenery that can be seen elsewhere. For instance, many kids remember Hong Kong mostly for the fabulous Disneyland.
Meanwhile, there are few things in Hainan that can be taken home as souvenirs. Local specialties are also rare, but now have problems with brand recognition at home and abroad.
We always tell our customers that Hainan's agricultural products, such as coconut drinks and seafoods, are the most natural without any industrial pollutants. Also, Hainan has the most suitable soil to grow coffee beans. But the problem is we cannot provide customers with reputable and delicious products because local producers are mostly small and spend too much time making what little money they can instead of building brands and improving the quality of their products.
In fact, we, local residents, are not as excited as people have anticipated. For one thing, Hainan lags far behind other island cities in every aspect. My colleagues and I think it might be too soon to build Hainan into an internationally reputable tourist destination. For another, we are really concerned about the damages to the environment with an influx of tourists. The natural environment is our bread and butter. If we do not protect the environment as much as possible, we will eventually lose the only gift nature has given us and drive the tourists away from the island.
In addition, high housing prices, which have been pushed up by speculators, have put local residents in a bad situation. After the Central Government decided to build Hainan into an international tourist destination, some housing projects have reportedly raised their prices by 5,000 yuan ($732) per square meter overnight.
Fang Shan (Chinese student at Northwestern University in the United States):
In general, I strongly support the idea to build Hainan into an island with an international reputation.
I went to the island on my honeymoon in 2007 and was deeply impressed by its blue sea, beautiful sunshine and nice tropical scenery.
But sadly, Hainan does not enjoy as high a worldwide reputation as Bali and the Maldives. Maybe we are not promoting it as heavily as the other two countries. I believe this is the time to make Hainan known to the world.
Personally, I am looking forward to the casinos and duty-free shops, which have proven to be strong tourist draws in other parts of the world. Hainan cannot make a world-class spot without upgrading its tourist attractions.
The world's most successful tourist destinations don't just sell products. Instead, they sell a unique experience, where people can escape from their routine life and become another person, release their hidden identity, or treat themselves with indulgence. If Hainan can offer this kind of unique experience to tourists, it will be able to distinguish itself from other vacation locales.
As much as I love Hainan and its beautiful sceneries, I'm worried how it will handle the high volume of tourists. How can damages to the environment and increased pollution be prevented?
During my stay in Hainan, I noticed many problems. As an island known for tourism, services were not as good as I had expected. The waiters lacked a focus on the customers, and government functions were insufficient. All people in the tourism industry must be trained properly to match the image of an international tourist destination.
Yan Tingjun (Macao resident):
I recently learned the Central Government has in principle agreed to explore prospects into sports lotteries. I am mostly concerned about this news as Macao, where I've lived for 30 years, relies heavily on gambling as a primary source of income.
In spite of the government's efforts, I don't think the island will catch up with Macao in the same business and won't pose any direct competition to Macao. I've talked to many people in the financial and lottery industries. All of them believe the unique system and tradition of Macao will maintain itself as a highly competitive casino.
But one thing worth considering is how the Macao authorities can improve services and infrastructure for lottery business in case the Central Government agrees to build casinos in Hainan. When and if that really happens, Hainan will prove to be a strong competitor.
Layla Chong (a Chinese-German and junior consultant in Beijing)
I really enjoyed my visit to Hainan last December. It looks very similar to Thailand and Viet Nam, with its beautiful beaches and warm weather. I was able to just lie out on the sand all day and soak up the sun.
In general, Hainan is very touristy, but the locals and the atmosphere are still very Chinese. There were a lot of Russian tourists and even some of the locals there spoke Russian.
I was impressed with how cheap everything was. The local seafood restaurants all had great food at cheap prices. You could buy cheap pearls and other souvenirs at the nice night market as well.
Some of the restaurants right at the beaches were too expensive and the portions were too small. Also, I wouldn't suggest renting electric bikes for long distance travel, since you may have difficulties charging them later. But the bus system and sanlunche (tricycle) were very convenient to get to places nearby.
Overall, I had a really great time and would definitely go back, especially because of the beaches and nice weather.