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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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Hainan's Survival Strategy

Kazuaki Hirama

Apr. 1, 2016

Hainan Island in southern China is popular with people from the mainland because of its pleasant climate and golden-sand beaches. But the number of tourists is falling, and people on the island are looking for ways to reverse that trend.

Hainan Island has often been called "Hawaii in China." The seaside beach resort of Sanya has become a popular tourist destination, with an average temperature of around 27 degrees. But the number of mainland tourists visiting the island has been declining over the past few years.

People say the drop is due to China's economic slowdown and the government's crackdown on corruption. Hainan Island was a popular place to entertain mainland government officials and businessmen.

The drop in visitors is so severe that many restaurants and bars have gone out of business.

"Around 10 years ago, mainlanders would come in groups and spend huge amounts of money here. But now, all we get are individual tourists," says a worker at a local shop. "I think the government's anti-graft campaign is one of the causes. Rich people have stopped spending money out of fear of getting arrested."

Local governments and businesses have been taking steps to find new sources of revenue. They're trying to attract more foreign tourists.

They held a week-long expo on international tourism. People in the tourism industry from across the globe were invited to attend. Tours specifically designed for foreign visitors were introduced at the venue. Participants got to try drinks made with local produce.

Officials are targeting Russian tourists. People from the country have been flocking to the island in recent years in search of the tropical island experience.

"It's just like summer -- nice and hot," says one Russian tourist. "I want to get a good tan, as well as a massage and acupuncture."

Li Chunsheng is a vice president of a real estate developing called the Guowei Fortune Group, which is building a resort facility on the island targeting foreign tourists.

"We want people to visit from across the globe. We hope to launch education or medical tours in the future," he says.

The resort facility will include 9 35-story hotel buildings with luxury swimming pools. It will be staffed around the clock by workers who speak English and Russian, and it's scheduled to open in June.

Li thinks it will be difficult to boost the number of visitors immediately. But he believes accommodations that offer top-quality services will appeal to people all over the world, and will gradually attract more tourists.

"The island's future depends on whether we can build facilities that meet the needs of people around the world," Li says. "We have to work hard and improve services if we want to attract many visitors."

Hainan Island initially prospered as a popular getaway for mainlanders. Whether it can gain worldwide recognition is the key to its survival.

NHK World's Kazuaki Hirama joined anchors Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu in the studio from Beijing.

Shibuya: So Kazuaki, what do Russians like about Hainan?

Hirama: Well, there's Hainan's tropical climate, for a start. Many also visit the island for massage, chiropractic treatment and herbal medicines. In one herbal pharmacy, I saw Russian tourists on a shopping spree. And lots of stores have signs written in the Cyrillic alphabet. Many restaurants have Russian food. I was also surprised to find many shop clerks speak Russian. They told me they're studying the language on their own.

Beppu: What is the central government doing to promote tourism on Hainan?

Hirama: Beijing wants more people from other countries to visit the island. It hopes to turn Hainan into a world-class resort by 2020, so more airports are being built. A new one opened a few weeks ago in the town of Boao, and another is set to be completed 3 years from now. And Hainan's existing airport will be expanded. Government officials hope this will lead to an increase in the number of regular, direct flights from other countries.

They're also encouraging travel agencies to promote more inbound tours from abroad. Officials have begun rewarding companies that bring in the most foreign tourists. And travel agencies are working so hard to create appealing tour packages.

Shibuya: And now, what are the challenges in getting more foreign tourists to visit Hainan?

Hirama: I'd say competition with resorts in other parts of the world. I mean, when I went to the island to research this story, I got the impression that prices such as hotel accommodation were higher than at other resorts. And no one at my hotel could understand English. Transforming Hainan into a global travel destination I think means improving not only infrastructure, but also hospitality and services.