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Sanya sets sights on well-heeled tourists
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A model of a seven-star hotel in Sanya, in which Chinese real-estate company Antaeus Group has invested 2 billion yuan. The hotel is scheduled to open in 2011. The resort will be designed by the same company that designed the seven-star hotel Burj Al Arab in Dubai and will be managed by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts. Company photo

With long stretches of pristine sandy beaches and year-round sunshine, Sanya, the tropical beach resort in China's Hainan Island, is now striving to become a luxury travel destination of international appeal to rival Bali and Phuket.

Although dubbed the "Oriental Hawaii", Sanya was until recently known in China as a place for cheap-and-cheerful package holidays, and little known abroad except in Russia, South Korea and Japan.

But now the city is determined to move its travel market upscale to attract more elite overseas holidaymakers.

This year, China's southernmost city is set to step up building its luxury tourism sector, which includes the construction of an international cruise terminal, yachting marinas and five-star hotels.

And the global economic downturn does not seem to have slowed the development of the city's high-end travel market.

Last year, three top international resort brands, Ritz-Carlton, Singapore-listed Banyan Tree and Mandarin Oriental, all opened for business in the city.

More international hotel giants are still looking to Sanya to grow their business in the years to come, Li Boqing, deputy mayor of Sanya, told China Business Weekly in an exclusive interview.

He said that the 3.7 billion yuan investment in 26 tourism infrastructure projects on the island this year would overshadows its international counterparts.

Li added that the city's luxury travel industry would experience rapid growth this year.

"We will re-identify the city's travel market and make a change in the city's tourism industry development pattern from the low-end toward the upper-end," said Li.

This year, Sanya Phoenix Island International Cruise Terminal will start construction of a cruise terminal of a 250,000-ton level berth, enabling it to become a permanent port for international cruise lines, Zuo Zhenghe, director of the office of Sanya Port Administration Bureau, told China Business Weekly.

He said the city was stepping up its efforts to attract more international cruise lines to the port, in a bid to turn Sanya into an "Asian Miami".

Construction of China's first seven-star hotel, a 200 m skyscraper, is scheduled to start at the end of this year on Phoenix Port Island.

Frank Lin, general manager of Sanya Visun International Yacht Club, said the company is building a marina with 72 berths, scheduled for completion this April. At the marina, a super-five star yacht hotel will open this August, with yachts able to berth at the hotel's lobby.

"We want to turn our marina into a 'paradise for the rich'," Lin says.

Last year, the global financial crisis led to a reduction in the number of foreign tourists that visited Sanya, especially those from South Korea and Japan, said Du Liyin, director-general of Sanya Tourism Bureau.

But investors are looking to the long-term and remain optimistic, said Du.

Still, the investors behind the luxury projects believe there's great potential in China when it comes to the yacht and cruise markets. They hope to profit from the millions of Chinese people who have benefited from the country's economic boom.

Cultural tourism

Besides ocean and water sports, the city that was once was known as "the end of earth", is beginning to promote cultural tourism.

"From this year, we will step up efforts to turn Sanya into a travel destination where the tourists can not only enjoy sandy beaches and bright sunshine, but also explore diverse local cultures," said Liao Minsheng, director-general of Sanya Culture Bureau.

The Crown of Beauty Center, the city's indoor theater and home to the Miss World Contest, is the stage for cultural performances that includes shows about minority groups.

"The performances received around 700-800 visitors every evening during the Spring Festival," said Fang Sundong, president of the Crown of Beauty Center.

The Nanshan Temple, a Buddhist temple with a giant Kwan-yin statue in the sea, hosted various temple fairs during the festive holiday, and attracted 104,000 tourists during the holiday season.

In addition, the city hosted an international orchid festival in January that attracted more than 58 exhibitors from 11 countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Germany, Italy, and the United States.

More than 30,000 blooms were on show at the 2008 Sanya International Orchid Festival, twice the number on display last year.

(China Daily March 2, 2009)

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