Emboldened Haikou in line for huge windfall from Beijing’s helping hand
Tourism bureau steps up efforts to turn Haikou into regional travel destination
This year is Hainan’s 30th anniversary, and a massive leap in the province’s development. Haikou, the capital city, is well placed to make the most of new opportunities.
In April, President Xi Jinping paid a three-day visit to Haikou after attending the Boao Forum. At a gathering celebrating the 30th anniversary of the founding of Hainan Province and the Hainan special economic zone, Xi announced the government’s decision to support the transformation of the whole Hainan Island into a pilot free-trade zone with Chinese characteristics. The government will promulgate policies and institutional systems to support the initiative, making Hainan the country’s largest free-trade zone and the first free-trade port to enjoy higher-level policies.
Xi said the development of Hainan could no longer rely on intermediary trade and processing, and it should be driven by tourism, modern services and new and hi-tech industries. He invited foreign investors to invest in Hainan and develop the free-trade zone. Higher-level trade and investment liberalisation policies will be implemented and incentives will be offered to attract more international talent to work in Hainan.
The government will roll out increasingly flexible policies for the tourism industry to encourage more overseas investment and cooperation. After the establishment of the free-trade zone, visitors to Hainan will enjoy duty-free shopping in all cities, instead of at dedicated duty-free outlets, as is the case at present.
The initiative presents tremendous opportunities for growth for Haikou, especially for the tourism industry. In the past, many visitors used Haikou mainly as a transit point on the way to Sanya, taking advantage of cheaper airfares. However, unlike Sanya, which is mainly a leisure destination, Haikou is the city that appeals to business and leisure travellers. It is also the provincial centre for government and companies. With greater investment and business activities in Hainan, more visitors are likely to come to its capital.
Haikou has improved its tourism infrastructure and offerings over the past decade, and developed into a travel destination in its own right. The city has more than 10 luxury hotels, and the largest exhibition centre in Hainan. Tree-lined highways have been built around the city and on the waterfront. The Mission Hills Resort, south of the city centre, has developed into a leisure hub with golf courses, a shopping complex, movie town and water park. The city is surrounded by a beautiful volcanic landscape with many parks and greenery. It also boosts Hainanese heritage in old streets, ethnic culture and food.
The city has recorded a steady growth of visitors from within China and abroad. According to Wen Delin, deputy director of Haikou Tourism Development Commission, the number of foreign visitors has grown with the introduction of more direct flights between Haikou and foreign countries, such as those to Moscow launched last year and flights to Sydney from January.
Haikou now has 28 international routes, and further direct flights to destinations in France and Germany are in the pipeline. Visitors from 59 countries have been able to visit Hainan without a visa from May 1 for 30 days (up from 26 countries and 15 days), and more tourists are expected.
With the new opportunities brought by the free-trade zone initiative, the tourism bureau says it will step up promotional efforts overseas, with the goal of turning Haikou into a primary travel destination in the region.