Business & Economy

Tourists flock to Chinese tropical island Hainan as pandemic subsides

By Jesus Centeno

Sanya, China, Dec 18 (efe-epa).- A 108-meter statue of the Buddhist goddess of Piety welcomes the hundreds of thousands of tourists visiting the beaches of the tropical Chinese island of Hainan, which has not recorded any Covid-19 cases for six months.

According to the Qunar travel portal, the number of tourists who visited the island during the last two months grew by 30 percent, and arrivals during the coming Lunar New Year holidays, which kick off on Feb. 12, are expected to increase by 50 percent.

However, the surge in arrivals has its own risks.

Two tourists and dozens of their close contacts recently ended up quarantined in the town of Sanya in southern Hainan after having dined with an asymptomatic carrier of the novel coronavirus in the northwestern Chinese city of Xian before their trip.

The island authorities told EFE that Hainan has not had new Covid-19 cases for more than 300 days and that additional prevention measures have been taken to keep it that way: “There have been some cancellations, but our status as the most desirable tourist destination for Chinese and foreign tourists remains stable.”

Although the island is mainly eying domestic tourists, this year many foreigners living in China, faced with the difficulty of traveling to other countries, have also opted to go on vacation in the so-called “Hawaii of China”.

“If it’s beach tourism, Southeast Asia seems more attractive to me. I came here due to the pandemic, obviously,” Spanish architect Alejandro Crivellari, who works in Beijing, told EFE.

Crivellari has decided against going out of China due to the difficulty in getting back given that the country’s borders remain virtually closed as a preventive measure against the novel coronavirus.

“Hainan offers many facilities to tourists, but lacks a little room for adventure. More alternatives to ‘resort tourism’ are needed,” he said.

The Spaniard took the opportunity to learn how to surf in the village of Houhai, an activity that is becoming popular among foreigners visiting the island.

The Chinese citizens traveling to Hainan can be compared to migratory birds, escaping the icy northern regions and making up some 71 percent of the total tourists, according to an Airbnb report on tourist trends in the country.

On the beaches of Sanya, like the popular Dadonghai beach, bars and street karaokes enliven the evening for passers-by, while several tourists get themselves clicked in front of the beautiful scenery of the island.

The wealthiest, for their part, enjoy their seafood in the trendy “resorts” and cruises on sailboats, yachts and cruise ships.

But the biggest draw for the local visitors are the duty-free stores, whose sales exceeded 12 billion yuan (about $1.83 billion) between July 1 and October 31 this year, marking an increase of 214.1 percent year-on-year, according to customs data released by state broadcaster CCTV.

This has been the result of a policy change by the government this year increasing people’s cap for purchasing duty-free products to 100,000 yuan per person.

However, this has also resulted in irregularities, with more than 700 people being apprehended for selling these products to third parties, according to CCTV.

The development of the island as a tourist hub has also led to discontent in ancient fishing villages such as the one in Jiyang district of Sanya, where the ruins of the old buildings -where inhabitants once resided – can still be seen.

Some graffiti marked the date on which it was ordered to be demolished before the people were transferred to residential complexes.

“There were power cuts in the Hainan I knew as a child, but I also think we had a lot more freedom and less stress then,” Zhang Qi, a 26-year-old resident of the island, narrated to EFE.

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