Holiday haven par excellence (WEI YAO)
When Chen Yibo travels abroad to promote Hainan tourism every year, he often has to reveal the existence of the island as if it were a secret: "There is a Hainan Island in China," Chen says. As Division Chief of Marketing and Communications of Hainan Provincial Tourism Bureau (HPTB), it is his responsibility to transform the destination, long popular with holidaying Chinese, into a resort of international repute.
Hainan Island and Hawaii are at the same latitude. As such, Chen wishes to compete in terms of popularity with the Pacific islands, but faces a large task. Nevertheless, A.E. Saviqnac, former secretary-general of the World Tourist Organization, said of Hainan during his visit, "Hainan is a beautiful pearl of China and all human beings, possessing the most precious resources of China. The status of Hainan to China is like the Mediterranean to Europe and Hawaii or Florida to America."
PICTURE PERFECT: Foreign tourists are a common sight on Sanya's beaches
In Chen's eyes, the sunshine, beaches, sea, air and plants of Hainan Island are better than those of Hawaii, and he hopes that it can be more famous than Hawaii some day. "It is a matter of time. Compared with Hawaii, we have more potential," Chen told Beijing Review.
Last year, Hainan hosted 753,100 overseas tourists. According to Chen's prediction, this year there will be more foreign tourists enjoying their holiday there. In the first quarter of this year, the southern island received 244,200 overseas tourists, 9.26 percent higher than the same period last year. Since the high season comes in the third and fourth quarters, it is estimated that the growth rate this year will be higher.
Located in the South China Sea, Hainan Island is China's second largest island after Taiwan. Greenery and flowers can be seen throughout the year in Hainan, where the annual average temperature is 24 degrees centigrade. Even in July when the temperature is at its highest, the average is only about 28.4 degrees centigrade. Thanks to a cool sea breeze, visitors don't feel muggy. And winters are mild. In January when the temperature is at its lowest, the average temperature is 17.2 degrees centigrade.
Before 1988 when Hainan Province was founded, Hainan Island was under the jurisdiction of Guangdong Province and had not been overly developed. Perhaps this is why the island's original tropical and subtropical environments have been completely preserved and its forest coverage is still as high as 51 percent.
Its beaches are clean and soft, with fine sands and rows of coconut trees alongside them. You can swim, sunbathe on the beach, or relax and listen to the sea breeze in the coconut trees.
Its surrounding coastal seas are clean with high transparency. Meters below the surface, divers can enjoy the colorful underwater scenery and see schools of fish crowding together.
According to Chen, coral reefs are resplendent for visiting divers. Among various kinds of colorful coral, there are jade-like chrysanthemum coral, pink lotus coral, vermeil peony coral and light yellow mushroom coral. Together with tropical fish and seaweed of fantastic forms, a beautiful "underwater garden" can be explored.
If tired of the sea views, visitors might wish to take a walk in the many hills and mountains on the island. Besides the rich resources of iron and crystal buried in the mountains, there are tropical waterfalls to be discovered, as well as over 3,000 varieties of tropical plants, and vast virgin forests that have rarely been entered.
In Chen's description, the biggest advantage that the good ecological environment has brought to local people is long life. There are many centenarians among the island's residents.
Haikou, the provincial capital, lies at the northern tip of Hainan Island, and Sanya, the most famous tourist city in the province, lies in the southern end of the island. From Haikou to Sanya, you can travel by train, bus, ship or plane. It takes only three hours from Haikou to Sanya by bus, which goes along expressways and passes a mountain that acts as a demarcation line between the two sides of the island-the subtropical area to the north of the mountain and the tropical area to the south. The other cities of Hainan Island are all connected by highways or railways in good condition. Since there are few cars on the road, visitors need not worry about traffic jams.
In Sanya, there are many hotels and shops. The roads are in good condition and it's easy to get a taxi. A local told Beijing Review that in high season, it might be a little hard to book rooms and prices may be higher, but visitors do not need to worry about finding somewhere to stay. In other cities on the island, they also do not need to worry about accommodations and traffic, because amenities can cater for all visitors' needs.
According to Zhang Qi, Director of the HPTB, the tourist capacity of Hainan Province is developing rapidly. Every year it can receive 20 million tourists. In 2007, it hosted more than 18 million tourists from home and abroad. On the island, there are 423 hotels, including 14 five-star ones and 53 four-star ones. There are also 16 car rental companies.
"There are over 130,000 people working in the tourism sector or related industries," Zhang told Beijing Review.
According to Zhang, when Hainan Province was founded in 1988, the tourism industry became a major source of development of the province. "The characteristic tropical leisure tourism is taking shape," he continued.