The tropical island of Hainan has a relaxed feel and a relatively low population density ?around 7.4 million people living on an area of 34,000 sq km. Rich mainlanders are slowly beginning to appreciate the benefits of getting away from it all and Hainan's reputation as China's Hawaii is now well established. It is particularly attractive because no passports or visas are needed for those travelling from the mainland. Hainan is already a popular golfing destination in Asia; six courses are open and another 11 are under construction.
However, Hainan is not yet not the Hawaii of Asia. Compared with other resorts, it attracts few foreigners. Last year out of 7.9m visitors. only 430,000 came from outside China.
The overseas market is relatively under-developed, mostly because of strong competition from other resorts in the region, many with better facilities. However, the construction of quality hotels is helping to make Hainan a more attractive destination. The island now has 30,000 hotel rooms, and the top end of the market is served by two five-star and six four-star hotels. Most of the hotels are in the cities, in particular Haikou. In future, the tourist authorities want to see more beach resorts.
Hainan's prime attraction is its tropical climate and unspoilt beaches. The best beach is the 23km Yalong Bay on the south coast near city of Haikou, where there are several high-class hotels, including the Hainan Mandarin, the Gold Coast and Huan Dao Tide Hotel. The Hainan Mandarin, wholly-owned by Overseas Union Enterprises of Singapore, is running at about 50 per cent occupancy. In the city as a whole the rate is not more than 45 per cent. Like elsewhere on the island, the top hotels cater chiefly to mainland Chinese business.
The seminar and conference industry is particularly important, although this market has been hit by the Asian economic crisis.
Traffic should increase when Dragonair begins direct services between Hong Kong and Sanya later this year. Currently, holidaymakers from the SAR heading to the south of the island have to fly to Haikou and then take a three-anda-half hour road journey.
"Vv'e are planning to increase our European market by 10 per cent this year," comments Mr Mario De Sa Pereira, general manager of the Gloria resort. "Japan is still the strongest foreign market for us. We have lost the Koreans, for sure, but we are growing in Malaysia and Taiwan."
Sanya site of Gloria International's Gloria Resort, the first international resort in the south.
Ten years ago Yalong Bay was a deserted beach. Four hotels are now operating there and a Holiday Inn is being built. A resort to be managed by Westin Hotels is going up on the east coast, at Boao. This hotel is the first stage of a 10-year development, to include an amusement park, golf course and holiday villas.
More air services
Hainan is appreciated as a winter retreat destination, its best weather being between the months of October and March. However, the resorts are also busy during China's main holiday season in July and August and over public holidays. For example, the hotels tend to be full every Chinese New Year.
The travel business is quieter in the capital.