For centuries Hainan was part of Guangdong Province, but was designated a province in its own right on 26 April 1988. Subsequently, no doubt in recognition of its potential for economic growth through tourism, this resource-rich tropical island was declared a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping – the largest SEZ in China – benefiting from preferential development policies, as well as incentives for businesses investing in the island.
Hainan has often been called the ‘Hawaii of the Far East’, or the ‘Chinese Hawaii’. It is indeed China’s only tropical beach location, lying at the same latitude (18°N) as the Hawaiian Islands. But it only really started to focus in earnest on developing tourism in the mid-1990s. This was probably due to the fact that, before then, the Chinese themselves were not avid travelers – let alone sun & beach enthusiasts.
The first Tourism Development Master Plan was completed in 2002, with the support of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Tourism development on the island appeared to be relatively slow, if steady, through most of the first decade of the century. Tourism investment and demand picked up considerable steam after China’s State Council declared, in December 2009, that Hainan Island was to be elevated into an international resort island destination.
Hainan is the smallest province of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in terms of land mass, but the largest including its marine territory, which comprises some 200 islands scattered among three archipelagos off the southern coast, extending to the Parcel (Xisha) and southern Spratly Islands, and other (disputed) marine islands. Nevertheless, 97% of its land mass is Hainan Island (Hainan Dao), from which the province takes its name.
Hainan Island is crisscrossed by limpid rivers. Winding streams, deep pools, stunning waterfalls and mirror-like reservoirs dotted in the mountains and virgin forests enhance the landscape and provide major attractions for tourists.