Hainan, a tropical island off southern China is often described as the nation’s answer to Hawaii.
It attracts more than 60 million domestic tourists a year, as Chinese holiday-makers flock to enjoy the province’s ancient towns, warm climate, clean air and lush forests. Natural attractions include hot springs and white sandy beaches. The area is also a duty-free zone.
Hainan’s Tourism Development Commission is aiming to attract 74 million tourists in 2018, including 1.33 million from overseas.
International tourism is a new frontier for Hainan, which does not currently compete for the millions of tourists who travel to popular destinations in the region, such as Vietnam or Thailand.
Inbound tourist numbers to Hainan doubled year-on-year to 1.1 million in 2017, as world-class developments helped promote the destination to a wider audience.
Chinese state news agency Xinhua has recently reported that the number of overseas visitors to Hainan is expected to exceed 2 million by 2020 – and the government may even lift its firewall on the province so that tourists will no longer have to forego access to their social media feeds (including Facebook and Twitter) while they’re on holiday.
New strategies include increasing the number of international flight routes to 100 and boosting the number of countries qualifying for 30-day visa-free arrival to 59, including Russia, the UK, the US, France and Germany.
“By extending the policy to individuals and the stay up to 30 days, the government aims to attract more international tourists, nurture the tourism industry and meet the needs of foreign individuals,” says Qu Yunhai, vice head of the State Immigration Administration.
Hainan – designated a Special Economic Zone since 1988 – is reaching out to global investors by aiming to become a free-trade zone. With global operators such as Atlantis recently opening high-end resorts there, it’s no wonder the attractions sector is also getting heavy investment.
Australian theme park operator Village Roadshow launched its third Wet’n’Wild waterpark this year, in the Mission Hills entertainment precinct of Haikou.
In partnership with the Guangxi Investment Group and Mission Hills Group, Village Roadshow’s latest facility features 50,000sq m of family-friendly fun, with more than 30 WhiteWater West slides, a Wild Water Bay attraction, a large wave pool, restaurants and events spaces – all aimed at bringing a first-in-class waterpark to locals and holidaymakers.
“Our mission is to be a world leader in safety and provide world-class water slides, facilities, food and service to generate repeat visitation and enjoyment for all visiting guests,” says the park’s general manager, Lee Carter. “Village Roadshow aims to operate under the highest standards of safety and water quality and we bring this knowledge and expertise to Wet’n’Wild Haikou.”
Meanwhile, at the southern end of the island, another of Asia’s most anticipated waterpark projects has opened at the US$1.7bn Atlantis Sanya mega-resort, with its 200,000sq m Aquaventure waterpark.
This 540,000sq m resort, owned by China’s Fosun International and managed by Kerzner International, is inspired by the underwater world and like its sister, Atlantis The Palm in Dubai and the under-development Atlantis Ko Olina in Hawaii, has an Aquaventure waterpark.
The resort’s aquarium, The Lost Chambers, has an Atlantis theme and over 30 exhibits, making it one of the biggest in the world. It’s home to more than 280 species and 86,000 marine animals, including sharks, piranhas and rays.
The Atlantis Sanya has more than 1,300 guest rooms, 154 seaview suites, and five spectacular underwater suites with floor-to-ceiling windows which look into the Ambassador Lagoon area of the aquarium.
The mix is completed by 21 dining spots, including one with a Michelin-starred chef. There are also two underwater restaurants, a spa and extensive retailing.
Another waterpark with an adjacent theme park, dubbed Ocean Happy World and developed by R&F Properties, is scheduled to open in December in nearby Lingshui.
In the city of Haikou, where Movie Town is an existing theme park, Wanda is investing too. In the Guilinyang Beach tourist area, the US$7.5bn Haikou Wanda City is under construction and will consist of a Wanda mall, an outdoor theme park that extends to the beach, theatres and live show areas, hotels, a conference centre, an ecological park and a leisure and dining district.
“Hainan is the only international tourist destination island in China,” says Wanda CEO Wang Jianlin. “It’s a natural holiday destination. Haikou Wanda City will become a super seaside vacation destination, bringing a new identity to the island.”
The company expects Haikou Wanda City to welcome more than 10 million tourists annually and it should be open by 2020.
Off the coast of Hainan, a number of huge construction projects are underway to create artificial islands that support the province by adding to its tourism offer.
HNA Group, a huge Hainanese conglomerate, is developing Nanhai (South Sea) Pearl Eco-Island off Haikou Bay.
New York-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the architects chosen for the scheme, have designed a yin yang-inspired island connected to Haikou by bridge which is envisioned to be “part of a future three-island eco-archipelago”, while also acting as a breakwater for Haikou’s coastline.
“The island will plug into the existing tourism network,” say the architects. “However, rather than creating an extension of Haikou, it will extend the city’s limited shoreline, and offer a rejuvenating retreat.”
Meanwhile, Ocean Flower Island – an artificial archipelago under construction in the waters north of Hainan – is a no-expense spared mega-project that boasts a striking futuristic design by LAVA.
Chinese real-estate investment group Evergrande is behind Ocean Flower Island, which will be home to almost 60 hotels, as well as retail space, museums, an opera house, food streets with restaurants and the world’s biggest conference centre.
Evergrande’s move into the attractions industry is gathering speed, as the island will boast three major developments – the Fairytale Theme Park, a marine park and a waterpark. It’s scheduled to open in 2020.
High-end tourism resort
The third artificial island in the pipeline, which has been approved by the Haikou authorities is Ruyi Island. Billed as a “high-end tourism resort for design, fashion and leisure,” this artificial island, connected to the main island by a 5.7km bridge, boasts a mix of theme parks, museums, malls, wellness facilities, hospitality and entertainment offerings. The 559-hectare Ruyi Island was master planned by EDSA.
Unique to the island’s design, a network of water streets, internal lagoons, marinas and coves not only provide alternative transportation but also anchor varying land uses and establish a continuous experience through organically inspired districts according to the landscape architects.
Rumours have circulated that a SeaWorld will be built on Ruyi Island, since developer Zhonghong acquired a 21 per cent stake in the operator in 2017. However, when contacted for verification, SeaWorld told Attractions Management the company had “no plans” to open a park in China and had made no announcements to that effect.
With China’s big-name developers seeking international partnerships in order to evolve Hainan’s proposition, there are likely to be further announcements in the very near future.