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With summer on the way and lockdown restrictions easing, the possibility of vacationing again is an exciting prospect.

But for those in China travel abroad remains restricted.

Luckily, there is no shortage of magical vacation destinations inside the Middle Kingdom. 

While the Great Wall or the buzzing cities of Shanghai or Xian might spring to mind as top vacation spots, the city of Sanya is drawing tourists from across the country. 

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Located in China’s southernmost island province of Hainan, Sanya is a coastal city with a population of almost a million. 

Known for its tropical climate and warm weather year-round, Sanya is home to China’s Olympic beach volleyball team and Hainan province plays host to Chinese reality TV shows.

But it hasn’t taken long for Sanya to achieve a country-wide reputation. Only 10 years ago Hainan province was building the most luxury hotels in the world.

Sanya Bay, view from Luhuitou Park. Photo by Tom Wang on UnsplashAnd this snappy transformation has definitely paid off.

In 2020 Hainan province welcomed 65 million tourists, down from an even more impressive 85 million the year before due to the pandemic. 

With sparkling blue water, great weather, and luxury hotels it’s not hard to see why Sanya has become so popular. 

Although there are also other reasons for Sanya’s success as a tourist destination.

Photo by Riku Lu on Unsplash

Two years ago, Hainan island was designated the largest free-trade zone in China.

This means that personal and corporate taxes are cappedand manufacturing materials (including the ones used to build those luxury hotels) are exempt from import payments. 

Duty-free shopping was also introduced in 2019. During the pandemic, the limit for tax-free shopping was extended to up to CNY 100,000, with mobile phones and alcohol included. Cheers!

With these financial incentives attracting businesses and shoppers, holidaying in Hainan is more popular than ever with Chinese tourists.

Photo by Jordan Nix on Unsplash

Staycations are often a more convenient choice for Chinese holidaymakers, even without COVID-19 restrictions.

Only about 8.7% of Chinese citizens have a passport, compared with over 40% in the US and almost 75% in the UK. 

Furthermore, non-COVID 19 related visa restrictions mean that passport holders can visit only 70 countries visa-free or visa on arrival.

So, with China’s growing middle class and young people aspiring to a jet setting lifestyle, the domestic tourism market is booming. 

But Sanya is has set its sights on gaining an international reputation. As well as international hotel chains, street signs in the city are written in English and Russian, as well as Chinese.

Nanshan Cultural Tourist Zone. Photo by Denny Ryanto on Unsplash

While Sanya Bay the centre of the bustling city, there are is Nanshan Temple and a Li and Miao Minority culture park to explore. 

However, Yalong Bay just outside the city is where most international holidaymakers stay in plush hotels separated from local vacationers. 

With a huge number of domestic tourists, is Sanya bound to become a world-renown tourist hotspot? 


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Isobel Haskell
Isobel Haskell is studying for a Master’s Degree in Chinese Studies at SOAS in London. As a language learner and noodle enthusiast, she hopes to write stories that inspire curiosity.
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