As the country’s only tropical island, Hainan is often referred to as the ‘Chinese Hawaii’ for its laid-back resort feel and proliferation of palm-fringed beaches. James Zheng, deputy director of Sanya Tourism Development Commission, thinks that description is unfair. He says: “Our objective isn’t to become the Chinese Hawaii – we want Hawaii to be known as the Western Sanya.”
It has taken 20 years of rapid development to transform Hainan Island from a simple fishing community into an established hospitality haven. The expansion has included the implementation of a business events infrastructure, and the meetings and incentives market currently accounts for around 20 per cent of Hainan’s 12 million annual visitors according to Zheng.
He elaborates: “We have built a destination deliberately to capture business events, golfers and holidaymakers. Our natural resources are excellent and our facilities comprehensive. Sanya has 48 brands representing 24 groups from all over the world, including Marriott, Hilton and Intercontinental. Many of the ballrooms in the major hotels can host events for up to 1,000 people at a time.”
MEET ME IN HAINAN
Despite Sanya’s beautiful beaches and lush resort feel, Zheng says that the majority of business-based bookings are for meetings rather than incentives. “We host a lot of annual general meetings, particularly from international pharmaceutical companies and real estate developers. Our largest customer base is from China, particularly Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai. Internationally, we see business travellers from Korea, Russia and from across Europe.”
Situated at Hainan's southernmost tip, Sanya has of number of bays with Yalong Bay, Dadonghai Xiangshuiwan, Haitang, and Sanya Bay being the most popular. Recent developments have seen hotels expand out along the coast, particularly in Haitang Bay, which has been decreed China’s “national seashore” by the government. Zheng says: “This area is very new, which means that people who have already been to Sanya will find there is even more to discover. Development there has seen seven luxury hotels open with Kempinski, Sheraton, Conrad, Hilton, Intercontinental and Double Tree all opening properties. There is also a Royal Begonia, which is part of the Starwood Luxury collection.”
This rapid build-up of room inventory is commensurate with Sanya’s ambition to bring in more corporate groups from across the country and overseas, in particular those on high-end incentive trips. There is a growing realisation among business events industry practitioners that Sanya now has a greater density of high-end hotels than any other Chinese city, including Beijing and Shanghai.
Angel Ling, director of sales and marketing at Yalong Bay Golf Club, says: “Around 30 per cent of our visitors are in Sanya for business and golf is just an added incentive. Mostly, they’ll stay for four days, with two days dedicated to business and the rest set aside for golf. Around 95 per cent of our customers come from China, with the other five per cent arriving mostly from other Asian destinations.”
Regularly hosting international championships, the Yalong Bay Golf Course is one of Sanya’s most experience large-scale event facilities. This October, for instance, will see the return of the European Ladies Championship, a major tournament and prestigious event for the club.
DOING BUSINESS IN HAIKOU
Frequently eclipsed by Sanya’s charming beaches and other tourist-oriented attractions down south, the capital Haikou is situated in the north of the island. This city is slowly garnering its share of overdue attention from the business events industry. As the capital of Hainan province – which in April rang in its first quarter century as China’s largest special economic zone (SEZ) – Haikou is the hub of the island’s history, politics and trade.
This is where business gets done and, in its 25th year as an SEZ, Hainan province has seen its export trade expand 48 times its original size. The province boasts an average annual growth of 16.8 per cent, which is higher than the national average. Hainan trades with as many as 160 countries with its top three trading partners – European Union, Japan and the United States – accounting for around 60 per cent of the total trade volume in 2012.
Not surprisingly such prosperity – and diversity – is reflected in Haikou’s business event clientele, which is predominantly businessmen and trade missions. As the provincial capital’s first international five-star luxury hotel, the Singapore-based Meritus Mandarin Haikou has witnessed Haikou’s blossoming into a mature meeting and incentives market. Having first opened its doors in 1997 in the heart of Haikou’s financial hub, Meritus Mandarin has been setting the standard for business and leisure hotels in the area ever since.
Yuki Huang, assistant marketing communications manager for Meritus Mandarin Haikou, says: “We’ve tried to be responsive to the suggestions we've recieved from our regular guests.” To this end, the hotel is undergoing a major renovation to update its lobby and meeting rooms. Renowned in the city as the destination for lavish weddings, the hotel is now positioning itself to capture more business from the MICE market.
Currently, there are six five-star hotels operating in the city and 15 more in the works. Most are scattered across the western coastline but resort development has continued apace. Doubletree Resort by Hilton Haikou, The Westin Haikou and Sofitel Haikou are all expected to open within the next two years. The construction of the seven-star Haikou Millennium Hotel on a manmade island, the city’s landmark in the making, is to be completed by 2015. The Langham Haikou is also slated for a 2015 opening. By then, Haikou finally will have caught up with Sanya in terms of its luxury hotel portfolio.
While Sanya has more five-star hotels Haikou may well come out ahead of Sanya in the volume stakes. The city is home to the Hainan International Convention and Exhibition Center (HICEC) which first opened its doors to conference delegates in 2011
With a total area of 136,200 sqm – including a 77,000 sqm exhibition centre and a 42,000 sqm convention centre, its 4,800 sqm Opening Ceremony Hall can hold up to 6,000 people.
But already it isn’t all work and no play in Coconut City. The Mission Hills Resort has seen swaths of golf greens rise out of volcanic wasteland and now plays host to the Golf World Cup, World Celebrity Pro-Am, World Ladies Championships and World Golf Invitational in addition to an increasing number of golfing enthusiasts.
New hotels, too, are catching on by creating a resort environment that appeals to both business and leisure travellers. Opened last November, Shangri-la may be the new kid on the block on Hainan Island but its deep-rooted presence in the China market and a convenient location adjacent to the convention centre gives the hotel an upper hand in capturing a big slice of the Haikou market.
Alison Guo, assistant communications manager for Shangri-La Haikou says: “We’ve already hosted some high profile groups here. Last year, for instance, we looked after a group of Chinese government officials who were having meetings at the convention centre and we’re currently preparing for an international snooker tournament.”
Located seaside amid a sprawling tropical garden, the luxury hotel offers spectacular sea views and opportunities for angling and windsurfing. Volcanic park touring and coffee tasting are also in the vicinity. Guo adds: “There’s lots to do around Haikou. Golf is very popular and the volcanic parks are just 15 minutes away. For more adventurous groups, we can arrange surf lessons with the neighbouring surf school.
ACCESS Sanya and Haikou both have international airports. Sanya Phoenix International airport is the smaller of the two but has weekly arrivals from China, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Operators include Hong Kong Airlines, Dragon Air and China Southern. Haikou Meilan is better serviced with flights available from Asiana and Tiger also available. Transit between Haikou and Sanya takes around two hours by train.
Climate Hainan has a tropical climate, similar to that of Hawaii and Hanoi. Sunny most of the year, the best time to visit is between November and March, avoiding the typhoons between May and October.
Languages Hainanese is the official dialect but Mandarin is widely spoken. Within the resorts, some staff can usually speak English, Russian plus other Asian languages including Korean and Japanese.
Visas Since 2002, Hainan has offered visitors from certain countries a visa-on-arrival, which entitles them to stay for up to 15 days. All visitors are advised to heck the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website for up-to-date specific countries:
Meritus Mandarin Haikou
Advantageously located in the new financial capital hub of Hainan’s capital, the 318-room Meritus Mandarin Haikou combines modern facilities with Asian hospitality. Opened in 1997 as the first internationally managed five-star luxury hotel in Haikou, it remains the standard bearer for business and leisure hotels in the area. Two sophisticated business centres support its 318 well-appointed rooms and suites.
The 337-room hotel offers a full range of urban resort amenities, and impressive event and meeting venues aimed to cater extensively to the meetings and wedding markets. Its Hall of Splendour, set in the hotel’s 30,000sqm tropical garden, features dramatic floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean. The hotel’s 986 sqm Grand Ballroom is pillar free and among the largest in town. In total the hotel offers 2,400 sqm of meeting and conference space.
Mission Hills Haikou
Misson Hills’ boasts a wealth of experience in hosting international events and its comprehensive meeting facilities can cater for up to 1,600 delegates. The Grand Ballroom features elegant décor and floor-to-ceiling windows with breathtaking views. An outdoor poolside area has a pavilion for wedding parties and any kind of celebration. Five multi-function meeting rooms offer flexible setup options.
Sanya Marriott Yalong Bay
Resort & Spa, Sanya
Positioned on Yalong Bay, the Marriott resort in Sanya not only offers the chance to experience the tropical attributes of the destination – the beach is on the hotel’s doorstep – but extensive conference facilities besides. With 4,500 sqm of meeting space available, the hotel is suitable for large groups. The grand ballroom, for instance, can accommodate 900 people whilst some of the smaller rooms have a view of the ocean. Marriott.com/ hotels/travel/syxmc-sanya-marriott-yalong-bay-resort-and-spa
The Ritz-Carlton, Sanya
The resort has a 900 sqm grand ballroom, 13 meeting rooms and a centre garden, which can be used for events. The poolside and the beach can also be set up for receptions. The events team is adept at giving a venue a fresh look every time it has a function regardless of whether it follows a theme or not.
St Regis Sanya Yalong Bay Resort
The resort’s grand ballroom can hold up to 700 people theatre-style. There are eight meeting rooms, including a VIP lounge and a boardroom for 20 people. With the property surrounded by 150 yacht berths, the sailing experience is a key selling point for incentive groups.
Kempinski Hotel Haitang Bay Sanya
One of Kempinski’s first China properties, with 399 rooms and residential villas, this Haitang Bay resort has been designed to accommodate business events. Planners can choose from 14 meeting rooms and book one of the largest ballrooms on the island (4,000 sqm), which is capable of hosting up to 1,400 people at any time.