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Scenic Hainan island aims to be a world-class tourist hotspot
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Sanya, China's southernmost tropical city, is attracting the eye of more and more foreign tourists with the official launch of a regular passenger line by Star Cruises, one of the world's largest luxury cruise operators.

More than 1,000 tourists on the Super Star Virgo under the flagship of Star Cruises, arrived at the tourist hotspot in Hainan Province around midday on Monday and spent about eight hours enjoying the beautiful coastal scenery .

Sanya is a stop on Super Star Virgo's regular Hong Kong-Sanya-Vietnam-Hong Kong route. The city's frontier inspection station said the cruise planned a total of 24 arrivals at Sanya from April 14 to October 22, or once a week.

The scenic island of Hainan, dubbed China's answer to Hawaii, is aiming to develop itself into a world-class tourist hotspot, although its international fame currently still cannot match that of Hawaii.

Hainan will build itself in line with the standards for international tourist destinations by improving tourism management, staff quality and infrastructure, says Zhang Qi, Hainan Provincial Tourism Bureau's director.

With a landmass area of 34,000 square kilometers, Hainan was established in 1988 as a province and approved to be a special economic zone enjoying preferential development policies.

Last year, the island hosted 18.4 million tourist arrivals from both home and abroad, reaping 17.1 billion yuan (2.4 billion U.S. dollars). The tourist number and revenue were 24 times and 150 times respectively greater than those of 1987.

"Currently accounting for 14 percent of the island's gross domestic product, tourism has become a most promising sector in the island's development," says Chen Yao, the provincial tourism bureau's deputy director.

As of now, three major international passenger liners -- Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International and Star Cruises, have all opened routes with a stop in Sanya.

The number of foreign tourists to Hainan has been rising rapidly over the past few years, thanks to a series of tourism promotion activities abroad.

Last year, the island hosted 750,000 overseas tourists, a year-on-year increase of 22 percent. The goal is 880,000 overseas tourists this year.

Despite the rapid growth of tourist numbers, tourism authorities admit there is still a long way to go for the island to become a world-class tourist destination.

"Due to a late start and poor foundation, Hainan's tourism management level and matching environment currently still lag behind those of famous hotspots such as Hawaii and Phuket," says Chen Yao.

The management, personnel, and overall environment still need to be improved in order to reach international standards, he says.

Hainan has about 7,000 tourist guides, but only 600 of them can speak foreign languages.

The tourist guide management center of Sanya said more guides are now busy receiving foreign language training programs.

"Hainan will strive for more opening in exit and entry and aviation rights policies, and flexibility in tourism project approvals, to attract more overseas tourists," says Hainan's Communist Party chief Wei Liucheng.

Chi Fulin, China (Hainan) Institute for Reform and Development's executive president, says it is a right time for Hainan to internationalize its tourism industry.

"Tourism has become one of the fastest growing industries in the world. And China has said it will be the world's largest tourist destination by 2020. Tourism will gain more government support."

For Hainan, its own distinctive resource, improved infrastructure and management, have provided a historical opportunity for the construction of an "international tourist island", Chi says.

(Xinhua News Agency April 16, 2008)

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