The Hainan holiday miracle: why brands from Ralph Lauren to Coach and Estee Lauder are opening stores on the tiny Chinese vacation island where post-pandemic travel is already a reality

Tropical Hainan is an obvious getaway destination for Chinese mainlanders unable to travel overseas during Covid-19 – and it’s reaping the rewards as a result. Photo: @thisishainangov/Instagram

US luxury retailers, impatient for shoppers to start buying high-end goods again, are turning their gaze to the one place in the world where that’s happening: an island in the South China Sea.

Hainan has become a popular destination for tourists on China’s mainland unable to travel to the likes of Thailand or Bali during the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: @thisishainangov/Instagram

Hainan Island, China’s smallest province, is one of the few tourist destinations on the planet that’s back in full swing as virus-related restrictions squeeze international travel. The revival has caught the attention of executives like Patrice Louvet, chief executive officer of Ralph Lauren.

What does the Year of the Ox mean for luxury markets in China and beyond?

“Hainan is a strategic priority for us,” Louvet said in an interview. “Every business is looking at it.” Ralph Lauren has three stores there and plans to open another in the second half of 2021.


Last July, Chinese authorities tripled the annual allowance for duty-free purchases in Hainan to 100,000 yuan (about US$15,500) per person as the province attracted masses of domestic tourists unable to holiday elsewhere. In January, Hainan’s daily duty-free sales averaged 180 million yuan, up threefold from the year prior, according to the local government.

This surge has provided a valuable lifeline to luxury companies that have been deprived of tourism-related sales that normally drive a hefty chunk of revenue.

Are luxury brands doing enough for Lunar New Year?

“On fire”

“Hainan Island is on fire,” Capri Holdings CEO John Idol said on a conference call with analysts. “That’s probably the only tourist location that we can talk about globally that is seeing a strong performance.”

Capri, the owner of the Michael Kors and Versace brands, doesn’t expect its overall travel retail business, which includes stores in airports and train stations, to recover until fiscal 2023.

Tourists shop at a duty-free shopping mall in Sanya in Hainan in October 2020, the location of numerous luxury resorts, restaurants and malls. Photo: Xinhua

Tapestry Inc. is also planning to expand in Hainan and sees it “as a growth vehicle in the future.” Its Coach brand has two stores there, along with a presence in two more duty-free shops. Sister label Stuart Weitzman operates an additional location.

“The amount of development there is outstanding,” Coach CEO Todd Kahn said in an interview. “So you’ll see a lot more stores across all of our brands in the upcoming year.”

Covid-19’s second wave made China’s economy the world’s largest – here’s what that means for luxury

For companies like Estee Lauder, sales during the last quarter of 2020 in places like Hainan helped offset losses in other countries caused by the pandemic. Photo: Xinhua

In the case of cosmetics giant Estee Lauder, sales last quarter at Asia’s tourist hubs more than offset losses across the rest of the world. The company is planning expansion in Hainan as well, CFO Tracey Travis said in an interview.

“We have been fortunate that Hainan has seen the kind of success that they’ve had”, she said.

Want more stories like this? Sign up here. Follow STYLE on  Facebook Instagram YouTube and  Twitter.

This article originally appeared on  Bloomberg.

  • Already open for travel, China’s Hainan province has become a beacon of hope for luxury brands during the pandemic, who are now making it a ‘strategic priority’
  • With an allowance of US$15,500 per person in duty free shopping, not to mention sun, sea and sand, it’s no wonder the South China Sea island is booming