Luaus, lei, stunning beaches and huge volcanoes. It’s easy to see why Hawaii is such a draw for tourists. Just under 10.5 million of us descended upon the island state in 2019, a 5% increase over the preceding year (that number has unsurprisingly decreased drastically in 2020).
But for all its allure, there is in fact a ‘second Hawaii’ in China that is seeing a surge in domestic tourism in the wake of the global pandemic, and could well prove to be the best Bali alternative for Australians seeking some serenity as soon as borders open.
Hainan – the smallest and southernmost province of China which is dominated by Hainan Island and further populated by 200 smaller islands – is a tropical paradise and worlds apart from the smog-filled metropolises of mainland China.
According to Traveller, it has recently recorded six months without a single case of COVID-19, a fact that Hawaii can’t match. The US state has recorded 18,712 cases in total, 260 deaths and, at the time of writing, recorded 53 new cases.
Mainland China is currently recording low numbers of new cases itself, but with its residents expectedly unwilling to travel to other tropical hotspots, they’re now looking a little closer to home for their end of year getaway thrills.
Traveller reports 9.6 million tourists flocked to Hainan in October 2020 alone, representing a 3.1 per cent increase on tourists numbers over October 2019, before the pandemic was even a thing and proving that the Chinese were – like most holiday goers – avoiding their own backyard in search of far-flung destinations.
Indeed, these tourism figures prove that it is domestic tourists seeking solace from the stressors of the pandemic, as foreign visitor numbers were down 87 per cent in October. But with 46 million visitors in total across international and domestic this year, according to Traveller, compared to 83 million in 2019, Hainan is certainly nowhere near ‘back to normal’, but things are most certainly looking up.
That trend looks set to continue, and Hainan Island could well become a new millionaire’s playground. There are five-star hotels already dotted along the beach of Yalong Bay and the recently completed Mission Hills Haikou golf complex – which is 1.5 times the size of Manhattan and comprises 10 golf courses, hotels, water park, movie theatre and plenty of shopping – provides plenty to entice the world’s most wealthy inhabitants to its shores – not to mention a corporation tax rate of 15% expected to be brought in by 2035.
In fact, shopping is one of the biggest draws to Hainan. The Province has made changes recently to its duty-free shopping policy, increasing the annual tax-free limit customers can spend from US$4,125 to US$14,050 – and removing the individual item limit of US1,158. However, in a bid to make sure domestic tourists don’t simply take advantage of the island’s new laws to buy low and resell high, Haikou Customs has increased surveillance – both video and in-person security – to monitor those partaking of the new limits, and has created a database of “high-risk” customers, tracking their spending habits and punishing those who do use the haven to make a quick buck.
If shopping isn’t your thing, then you could always head to Hainan to surf, although, despite Traveller giving rise to the Island’s surfing credentials – Houhai Bay – we don’t think it can quite compete with the waves offered up by Hawaii’s infamous Pipeline reef break. Australians in particular may still prefer to choose Hawaii as their tropical getaway, although, with flight times pretty much the same – 11hrs 55mins Sydney – Hawaii vs 12hrs 20mins Sydney – Haikou – it wouldn’t be the worst idea to try somewhere new.
Regardless of tourists’ reasoning for heading to Hainan, it’s encouraging to see travel resume as we head into 2021 with a healthy dose of optimism, and for domestic travel, in particular, to be experiencing growth.