Up, up and away! Ten hot-air balloons drifted up to the sky across the Qiongzhou Straits in Haiku, Hainan. Looking down below, in the heart of the city, a parade of jeeps lined the streets carrying hot-air balloon regalia. The people on the ground cheered and waved at the baskets far overhead. It was a magical sight, and not one you would normally associate with Haiku, Hainan’s capital city.
In the past five years, Hainan Island – known as the “Hawaii of the East” – and Sanya, the seaside destination known for its glitzy five-star beach resorts and Miss World contest, have received much attention. However, a look further north and event planners and companies seeking meetings and conference destinations will find that Hainan, in its capital city, Haikou, has much more to offer than sand, surf and the potential for sunburns.
As the commercial hub of Hainan, Haikou is often unfairly compared to Sanya, the well-known beach and resort location, and is largely overlooked as a corporate destination. Yet, Haikou is slowly developing its niche market, balancing rich cultural and historical heritage with commercial viability.
The city held the first Haikou Hot-air Balloon Festival in June, a three-day event themed, “Meeting the 2008 Beijing Olympics and Building a Harmonious Haikou”. It was organised by the Aero Sports Federation of China.
While they hope in the future the festival will attract worldwide attention, Haikou is currently riding on the buzz of the Beijing Olympics, attracting visitors to see director Zhang Yimou’s Impression: Sea stage show at Haikou’s water park. The show will test out lighting, props and lighting designed for the 2008 Olympics opening ceremony.
Greg Pringle, one of the founders of the Hainan travel website, “The World of Hainan” (www.hainan-world.com) thinks it’s time the capital city stands on its own. He commented: “‘Hawaii of the East’ is probably the most enduring cliché about the island. Although I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing, it would be a pity if the island were to end up as just another generic destination, a kind of artificial pastiche that could be anyone’s idea of a tropical resort. Hainan needs to retain something of its original character, otherwise it will lose the factors which make it unique.”
These individual attributes can be found in the historical aspects of Hainan Island, most of the examples of which are concentrated in Haikou. The history of exiles making Hainan their home dates back to AD 900, evident in cultural attractions such as the Tomb of Hairui and a temple dedicated to the poet, Su Dong Po. The villages of the Li and Miao native minority groups can also be found just outside Haikou. And, Hainan serves as the geographic backdrop for the novel, film and ballet, The Red Detachment of Women, a story about a local woman’s fight during the Chinese civil war.
In addition to the cultural appeal of the city, Haikou is also known for its award-winning golf courses. Amanda Liu, PR manager of Sheraton Haikou Resort, says: “We’ve [hosted] many groups who often come to Haikou for its golf courses, such as the Meishi Mayflower International Golf Course, as well as take advantage of our hotel’s meeting space since we’re the only five-star hotel situated on the beach in Haikou.” It is only a matter of time before corporate groups begin to discover the potential of Haikou as a meeting and incentive destination.
A leisurely four-hour drive south from Haikou toward Sanya opens up a world of outdoor exploration. Along the way is a variety of eco-friendly side trips to keep groups entertained. So many opportunities abound that eco-tourism is the main focus for Hainan Etona Travel Service, a destination management company in Hainan. Robinson Wang, the company’s general manager says: “The market for natured-based incentive trips is developing quickly and gaining popularity. The Hainan Tourism Board is developing its infrastructure and has supported us from the start of our company five years ago.”
Hainan boasts a range of ecological sites including the Bawangling Black-crested Gibbon Reserve in Changjian, the Datian Slope Deer Reserve in Dongfang, the Dazhou Isle Esculent Swift Reserve in Wanning City, and the Macaque Reserve on the Nanwan Peninsula in Lingshui. Nature reserves, hiking trails and observation points abound as well as the chance to see a volcano. Off-sites at locations like Nanshan Temple and nature reserves make weekend corporate conferences all the more interesting.
“There [are] still a lot of scenic spots to be discovered in Hainan. There are many natural reserves that are still unexplored. We would like to look at how we can encourage eco-based tourism and promote the adventurous side of Hainan, other than the sea, sun and sand. Events planners who come to Sanya with an open mind and with enough time to discover the island will find endless ideas for events and incentives,” says Johnny Liang, president of Hainan Haoyang International Travel Service, a company that also organises nature incentives tours.
Sanya is teeming with corporate groups, and the luxury resorts lining the beach in Yalong Bay are all vying for their business. Dirk De Cuyper, general manager of Hilton Sanya Resort & Spa, says: “The competition will only spur hotel operators to excel in their services and products.” In fact, there is a Yalong Bay Hoteliers Association where the general managers of five-star hotels in Sanya come together to devise ways to raise the profile of Sanya, as well as Hainan Island’s on the whole.
MV Destination Management
Contact: Clemson Lo, general manager
International Travel Service
Contact: Johnny Liang, president
Travel Asia (HK)
Contact: Owen Yau, president
Hainan Etona Travel Service
Contact: Robinson Wang, general manger
Haikou Meilan International Airport receives more domestic and international flights than Sanya Phoenix Airport, which completed a new wing in early 2007 that resembles a resort. Some complain that there are not enough direct flights to Hainan. At the time of publication, only Singapore Airlines flies into both cities. Tiger Airways flies to Haikou and SilkAir flies to Sanya. Charter flights from Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Russia and UK are popular alternatives.
Hainan falls on the same line of latitude as Hanoi and southern Hawaii, so the weather is mostly sunny. The best time to visit are from November to March. Avoid planning anything during the typhoon season, which is in full swing from May to October.
Hainanese, the local dialect is the dominant language, but Chinese is widely spoken. All major hotel staff speak English and some hotels have staff who speak Russian, Korean and/or Japanese.
A Chinese (L) tourist visa usually allows 14 to 90 days of stay. Check the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website for details regarding specific countries: www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
SHISHAN VOLCANO GEOPARK
There you are, having a meeting in a boardroom at one of Haikou’s hotels, fully aware that the Shishan Volcano Geopark is just 15 kilometres’ away from the city centre. In 20 minutes’ time, you could be standing inside or on the rim of a saddle-shaped volcano. The park features more than 40 types of dormant volcanoes, which were active between 27,000 and one million years ago. Don’t miss the ‘Ma’anling’ twin craters, lava tunnel caves, limestone caves and the outdoor volcano museum.
DONGZHAIGANG MANGROVE NATURE RESERVE
Explore the spectacular mangrove forest that lies just 35 minutes’ away from downtown Haikou. The reserve is a prime site for bird watching. Go during low tide where the thick trunks of the mangrove trees are revealed and the beach forms gullies and shallow pools of water, ideal for observing the sea creatures. The mangrove area is home to over 230 types of plants, 160 local and migrating birds, and amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans and fish.
NATURAl DELIGHTS FROM SANYA
JIAN FENG NATIONAL PARK
There are many secrets hidden in this park. It not only has 2,800 species of plants, 4,300 species of animals, 500 species of butterflies and 215 species of birds, but it also has a 16km stretch of beach suitable for teambuilding activities. Climbing the Jian Feng Mountain is strictly for the adventurous, but trekking through the dense forest among its gigantic trees is an experience not to be missed. Stop over at the Li minority group’s cultural village on your way back to Sanya, 90km away.
NANWAN MONKEY ISLAND
Established in 1965, the Nanwan Monkey island is a specially designated sanctuary for the Rhesus Macaques. For a unique team-bonding experience, it’s best to go in the morning or evening when the macaques are not hiding in the trees. During the day you’ll have to be content with the tourist-aimed monkey circus and photography sessions with macaques clad in colourful garb. The island is an hour’s drive from Sanya.
AS GOOD AS NEW
MERITUS MANDARIN HAIKOU
The hotel underwent a US$2.6 million facelift last year. Michael Lee, director of sales and marketing, says: “The hotel is located right in heart of Haikou’s business district and has a ballroom and three meeting rooms for event planners looking for hassle-free meetings in the city.”
SHERATON HAIKOU RESORT
The Sheraton Haikou Resort is an ideal location that rewards attendees with exclusive use of the resort’s private beach. Some 1,500sqm of the hotel is dedicated to conference space, giving companies a wide variety of options for groups of all sizes.
HILTON SANYA RESORT & SPA
An all-inclusive, 3,000sqm, two-storey MICE pavilion distinguishes this hotel from the rest on Yalong Bay. Dirk De Cuyper, general manager of the hotel says: “The space and the facilities in the pavilion make it an ideal place for meetings and events. The hotel is a destination where delegates can take the time to spoil themselves.”
THE DREAM TEAM
SHERATON SANYA RESORT
Having just won the Starwood Hotels & Resort Asia-Pacific’s “Best Performance – Starwood Preferred Planner” award for their outstanding performance in the Greater China Region, the event planning team at Sheraton Sanya Resort is just who you need to coordinate your event. One of their specialties is unique offsites.
LAWN PARTY BY THE SEA
GLORIA RESORT SANYA
“We have the largest outdoor, multi-purpose, open lawn area, where we have hosted teambuilding events and BBQ buffet dinner parties?under the stars.?Most guests are treated with the spectacle of a fireworks display to [top off] the event,” says Bernard Teo, area general manager – Hainan Hotels, Gloria Resort Sanya.
SANYA MARRIOTT RESORT & SPA
Plunge into this unique swimming pool and let the games begin! “The pool has a unique structure in which winds pass bridges and gardens. It offers many twists and turns leading to unexpected private corners. The space serves as an unusual venue in the hotel for teambuilding activities,” explains Karl Hudson, the hotel general manager.
KEMPINSKI RESORT & SPA SANYA
Imagine drinking freshly brewed German beer on a private stretch of beach; a new twist on a tropical paradise–. The hotel not only has a secluded beach at Sanya Bay and an Angsana Spa by Banyan Tree, but also a Paulaner Bräuhaus bar that serves traditional Bavarian cuisine. Exclusivity and security is guaranteed here, where corporate groups can truly unwind.
’TIS A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL
CROWNE PLAZA SANYA
Step into the hotel and you feel like you are entering a mini kingdom. Opulent Chinese architecture blends seamlessly with modern facilities. Volkswagen and Microsoft have looked to the hotel to host major events. Its Havana Plaza is great for outdoor functions, and the 1,300sqm Dragon ballroom can cater to large parties, receptions and gala dinners.
REST AND RELAX
THE RITZ-CARLTON, SANYA
Set to open in 2008, the hotel will boast a 2,788sqm ESPA spa, bigger than any of its Yalong Bay neighbours. Groups can look forward to “enrolling in programmes centred around cultural activities, culinary sessions and environmental conservation programmes”, notes Michel Goget, the general manager.
TOP IT UP
MANDARIN ORIENTAL RESORT, SANYA
Slated to open in early 2008, the Mandarin Oriental will cater to high-end meetings and incentive groups with its 297 rooms. The 480sqm grand ballroom, located at the top of the hotel and featuring hillside and sea views, will be able to hold 150 people.
AN INSIDER’S VIEW
Mix spoke to Robinson Wang, general manager of Hainan Etona Travel Service, about his experiences organising nature incentives in Hainan.
Q. Tell us about your company.
A. We are a full-service destination management company
operating throughout Hainan Island and Southwest China. We handle the logistics of running an event, develop teambuilding programmes and organise themed events. We also specialise in nature-based incentives.
Q. Who are your clients?
A. They are mainly from China, but we’re getting more international clients from countries like Germany, Japan, Spain and America. Some of our Chinese clients are China Everbright Bank and China Union. The international companies tend to be from the environmental sector.
Q. What are some of the “nature-based” incentives you have organised for these companies?
A. There are endless choices of nature-based activities in Hainan. We have developed over 50 itineraries focusing on the sea, mountains and rainforests. Some of the activities on the itineraries are deep-sea fishing, hiking, trekking through the rainforests, bicycling, bird watching, camping at nature reserves and
Q. How are people reacting to Hainan developing as an eco-tourism destination?
A. Eco-tourism or nature-based tourism is something new for Mainland China, but this niche travel market has already been popular in many countries. When we advertise our services in China, we refer ourselves as an adventure tour company. The Hainan provincial government and Hainan travel bureau have been very supportive of us. We hope to promote Hainan as a famous place for eco-tourism.