A vacation wonder
No one can rattle off the history of tourism in Sanya better than Tang Sixian, deputy director of the Sanya Tourism Bureau. 'Last year, the Sheraton paid more than 100 million yuan [HK$120.32 million] in taxes,' he says. 'Not many people expected that type of success when the resort first came to Sanya.'
Sanya was a very different place in 2002, before the Sheraton opened their luxury resort on Yalong Bay the following year. Back then, Tang says Sanya was a slow-paced beach town with a few local 3- and 4-star hotels charging no more than HK$300 per night for a room with a view of the ocean.
'The Sheraton brought a whole new market and helped create a whole new Sanya,' Tang says.
'After the success of the Sheraton resort, every single international resort started opening up locations here.' The Sheraton started at 1,200 yuan a night during the Spring Festival and has doubled the price every year since then.
It has helped that the Miss World Pageant was held in Sanya in 2003, rocketing the island onto everyone's vacation radar.
'We are very proud of the events that have come to Sanya,' Tang says. 'The Miss World Pageant made us known and then, over the years, as the market progressed, larger events became possible.'
Large events, such as the BRICS (an economic grouping referring to Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in April this year, symbolise not only China's role as a world leader, but also Sanya's status as one of the best places in the world to hold meetings.
'Sanya has excellent resources,' Tang says, as he lists the reasons on both hands.
'We have the safest, cleanest beaches in China, we have the best resorts and hotels in the area, we have great food, great roads and we're going to have the best hospital in the region over at Haitang Bay. Any high-level political or economic meeting will have Sanya on their list of possible destinations.'
There are several developments in the works for the future. Tang mentions a camping area near the Daxiaodongtian Tourism Park, for example, as a representation of the area's diverse tourism sites.
Not only is Daxiaodongtian known for its spiritual legacy - Daxiaodongtian are caves used by monks searching for enlightenment - but the camping area also caters to young people, university students and foreigners.
Tang also speaks about Sanya's technological feats and mysterious natural wonders.
He talks in awed tones about the joint Sino-Swiss effort to create a floating, underwater hotel near the Daxiaodongtian area.
'It's still in the feasibility stages, but it will be a great feat when it is finished - an underwater hotel connected to the mainland.'
Tang mixes intimate knowledge of the area and a no-nonsense, government official position on what to do - and when to do it - with a child-like wonder towards the tropical paradise he is responsible for promoting.
'Did you know that there is an undersea canyon in the middle of Dadonghai that sweeps all of the water away out to sea?
'That area has been open to tourism since the 1970s and I always wondered how that beach stayed so clean. Not long ago, someone showed me a study about that canyon and said, 'this is how the beach stays clean'.
'Fascinating don't you think?'