Local Authorities Tout Sanya As The Hawaii Of China, Borrowing Elements From Destinations Like Phuket, Thailand and Cancun, Mexico
Recently we wrote on a number of domestic and foreign hoteliers flocking to China’s Hainan Island, long a tropical retreat for Chinese tourists and increasingly popular with foreign tourists as well. Today, the Wall Street Journal discusses the great potential this island holds for luxury hotels, and the continued growth that the island’s authorities see in the hotel and tourism sector. As Hainan’s tourism industry continues to internationalize and rival neighboring resort areas in Thailand, Vietnam and elsewhere, we are sure to hear about even more hotel chains holding Sanya in the same regard as Phuket, Cannes, Cancun and Grand Cayman.
As the Wall Street Journal points out, much of the growth in Hainan’s luxury tourism sector is coming from wealthy Chinese tourists, who see the island as an exotic getaway with all the amenities of world-class resorts without the passport or visa hassles. Hainan’s location, relatively close to China’s Special Administrative Regions of Macau and Hong Kong, and the country’s economic powerhouse of Guangdong province, make the trip to Sanya even that much easier for many of China’s luxury travelers.
Sanya had more than six million visitors last year, 12% more than in 2007 and about 30% more than in 2006, according to the tourism board. The city boasts of being China’s “forever tropical paradise” — a status many of the Chinese visitors, men and women both, celebrate with tropical garb that might stand as the island’s symbol: a loud floral shirt with matching knee-length shorts. For newly rich Chinese, the chance to indulge themselves at a five-star beach resort, while speaking their own language and enjoying familiar comfort food, is a powerful draw.
Ritz-Carlton spokeswoman Vivian Deuschl says the company chose Sanya “because there are few resort areas in China, and [Sanya] is seen by many in the travel industry as having much of the appeal Bali has had over the years, especially for affluent Asians.” The Mandarin Oriental Sanya is the only property the company manages in mainland China so far, though it’s developing projects in Guangzhou and Beijing; its Beijing hotel was to have opened this summer in the China Central Television tower that was ravaged by fire last February. “Sanya is a very, very tourism-oriented city, and a lot of the big (hotel) names are there,” says the Sanya resort’s spokeswoman, Rebecca Hui.
Sanya has proved popular with non-Chinese as well, notably from Russia, South Korea and Japan. Cruise lines added Sanya to their itineraries after the first phase of a passenger terminal, planned to be one of Asia’s biggest — and built on a manmade island created for that purpose — opened in 2007.
Visitors from outside China do have to work harder to get to Sanya. There are charter flights from Russia (charter flights from England were abandoned after six months for lack of profit), but the only cities outside the mainland with scheduled direct flights are Seoul and Hong Kong. And the weak global economy has pinched the flow of overseas visitors. The number of Korean visitors plummeted during South Korea’s recent economic woes. The Sanya Marriott Resort & Spa says its numbers of guests from Russia and the U.S. were each down more than 50% in the first quarter from a year earlier. But many hotels report a rise in Hong Kong visitors, for whom Sanya, just 600 kilometers away, is a reasonable minibreak destination in a tough economy. And the domestic travelers keep coming.
But aside from copious sand and sun, what else does China’s “forever tropical paradise” offer a visitor? Mr. Knaust of the Mandarin Oriental, which opened in January on a secluded, rocky beach just around a headland from Dadonghai, says Sanya “is not as culturally diverse as Bali.” The Mandarin’s solution is to offer as many as three different instructor-led activities each daylight hour — say, a choice of lessons in scuba, table tennis or cooking mango pudding.
With 11 restaurants and bars and a spa offering treatments ranging from golfer’s massage to “pore-refining” facials, the hotel aims to provides a self-contained experience. Each of its teak-paneled villas comes with butler service, a private infinity pool and a gazebo.