Customers shop at a duty-free shop in Sanya, South China’s Hainan Province, on September 21, 2022. All 10 duty-free shops in Hainan, which were closed in early August due to COVID-19, resumed operations as of September 21. Businesses are looking for a rebound. Photo: VCG

The tropical and sunny Sanya in South China’s Hainan Province, one of the country’s top winter destinations, is back in focus, with long lines of tourists and packed vehicles pointing to a rapid rebounding of tourism and consumption.  

That Sanya recaptures its magic as one of the most-visited destinations is seen dovetailing with a revival in the world’s second-largest economy that hinges its growth on a rebooting consumer market this year.

On a Sanya-bound flight from Kunming, Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, another hot tourist spot, passengers — mostly in family groups — were seen in high spirit as they couldn’t wait to embark on their vacations in Sanya, as Global Times reporters observed.

As the plane, roughly 80 percent full, arrived in the tropical city late on Saturday, face masks couldn’t hide the joy of excited tourists, even though passengers had to wait for awhile to get a taxi at the airport. 

The bustling scene was no different from that of guests standing in long lines to check in at hotels. 

“Throngs of travelers have been arriving back in Sanya over the past week,” a hotel receptionist told the Global Times.

The hotel is fully booked for the upcoming Spring Festival, she said. Room rates, currently going for a starting price of around 900 yuan ($134), will rise to 2,000 yuan per night for the coming weeklong holidays.

In another sign of return to prosperity, traffic congestion is creeping back up, as local traffic has been revisiting its pre-pandemic levels since late December, Xie Ruibiao, a ride-hailing driver, told the Global Times on Sunday.

Hailing from the holiday resort, Xie said locals are upbeat about the tropical seashore city being crowded with travelers again over the forthcoming Spring Festival, a scene that was rare in the past three years.

Sanya is evidently central to the appeal of Hainan, which was planned to be built into a top international tourism destination in China, according to a State Council statement in early 2010. 

The vision was updated in June 2020 when the country rolled out a master plan to turn the island province into an international tourism and consumption hub by 2025, as well as a globally influential tourism and consumption destination by 2035.

The national vision has catapulted the local economy over the past decade, according to Xie, who also runs a restaurant.

The catering business, one of the hardest-hit sectors by the pandemic alongside tourism and accommodation, is seeing early signs of a comeback to pre-virus levels, Xie said.

Vehicles and tourists throng to a major duty-free shopping mall in Sanya on January 15, 2023. Photo: Li Qiaoyi/GT

Vehicles and tourists throng to a major duty-free shopping mall in Sanya on January 15, 2023. Photo: Li Qiaoyi/GT

In yet another sign, duty-free shopping outlets, a magnet for throngs of Sanya-bound mainland tourists, are regaining their past glory. 

At a major duty-free shopping mall in Sanya’s Haitang Bay, it was easy to see dozens of consumers waiting in lines to get inside the luxury clothing and bag stores on Sunday afternoon. 

Perfume and cosmetics booths were crowded, with flocks of shoppers waiting in long lines to pay. An additional five to six temporary check-out counters have been set up to handle soaring purchases of perfume and cosmetics, Qin Yuxue, a sales manager at Sanya International Duty Free Shopping Complex, told the Global Times on Sunday.

Along with the recent easing of COVID-19 prevention and control measures and the arrival of the traditional peak travel season in Sanya, the cross-provincial tourism and consumption market is now all the rage, Qin said.

As inflows of passengers to the island are on the rise, the numbers of visitors to the mall and sales revenues have seen a conspicuous rise since the start of January, according to Qin, who didn’t give exact figures. 

“Since the end of December 2022, when the national epidemic prevention and control policy was optimized and adjusted, the customer flow of our stores has kept breaking new highs every day,” Shi Yihan, a store manager at the Armani cosmetics and perfume store in the Sanya shopping complex, told the Global Times on Sunday.

Affected by two outbreaks of COVID-19, the shopping complex experienced two closures in April and August 2022 when Shi’s store business was hit hard.

“In the most difficult times, there were only one or two customers in the store. Now, with the New Year’s Day tourism boom and the Spring Festival impending, in our store, every salesperson is surrounded by customers, and there are always more than 10 people waiting in line to pay.”

“The coming Spring Festival shopping season is a good window of opportunity for all of us,” Shi said.

Hainan’s offshore duty-free consumption market has gradually rebounded since mid-December, with daily purchases topping 100 million yuan, media reports said. Daily sales during the New Year’s Day holiday from December 31 to January 2 averaged 140 million yuan. 

While delivering a government work report at the annual session of the provincial people’s congress on Friday, Feng Fei, governor of Hainan, said the province eyes leveraging a great tourism revival to boost consumption as it sets 2023 GDP growth target at an eye-popping 9.5 percent. 

Vehicles and tourists throng to a major duty-free shopping mall in Sanya on January 15, 2023. Photo: Lin Xiaoyi/GT

Vehicles and tourists throng to a major duty-free shopping mall in Sanya on January 15, 2023. Photo: Lin Xiaoyi/GT



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