What awaits tourists on Hainan Island, China

COVID-free Hainan: how Chinese island lives without foreign tourists

The number of foreign tourists in the 11 months of 2020 due to the pandemic decreased by 84.3% year on year, just over 144,000 foreigners registered at hotels during this time, while the total number of tourists in Hainan this year has almost reached 55 million.

Tourists in suits and shoes, endless photo shoots, sneaker tracks on the sand instead of bare feet, wetsuits instead of swimsuits – a typical day on the beach in Hainan island – the main tropical resort this year for residents of China, which does not suffer from loss of foreign tourists, but tries its best to meet the needs of rest of the population of one and a half billion.

It is not easy to leave China at the moment, and even more difficult to return, so many of those who live in China, whether nationals or foreigners, choose to vacation in Hainan. The island, where no confirmed case of coronavirus has been registered for six months, carefully guarded, so that millions of Chinese tourists could, if they want to safely and comfortably spend their vacations in the warmth.

The seriousness of the anti-epidemiological measures taken by the authorities is evidenced by the case when in early December a tourist group of 30 people came to the city of Sanya, and all of them were quarantined because two women from the group had previously been in contact with an asymptomatic carrier of the virus.

Chinese authorities have been controlling the epidemiological situation effectively for quite some time, but as the pandemic continues around the rest of the world, some Chinese on the island are still wary of foreigners.

The correspondent encountered a completely different attitude from the locals, some naively wondered if the borders were open and one could travel around the world without hindrance, others tightly masked their noses and asked if a foreigner had spent two weeks in quarantine, to get to the cherished beach, I had to convince them that the correspondent had not left China since January and there was no danger for them, others, who closely follow the news, expressed sympathy that “you have not been to your homeland for a long time, and for the New Year you will not be able to go.

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The number of foreign tourists in the first 11 months of this year due to the pandemic has decreased by 84.3% in annual terms, the hotels have during this time registered just over 144,000 foreigners, while the total number of tourists in Hainan this year has almost reached 55 million.

The province’s total tourism revenue for the first 11 months of 2020 was 73.6 billion yuan (about $11.25 billion), down 22% from the same period last year, but considering the global situation, the numbers are impressive.

No one to sing

Before the pandemic, the island was an extremely popular destination for Russians and citizens of CIS countries, because tours to the “Chinese Hawaii” were quite affordable and convenient in terms of visas. People came to Hainan, including for treatment, in the city of Sanya, for example, there are still massage parlors, medical centers and pharmacies, aimed specifically at Russian-speaking customers, but now, as the correspondent was convinced, many of them are closed.

According to statistics from the Hainan provincial government, in November only 337 Russian citizens stayed at hotels on the island, the figure was down by 99.3% compared to last November. During the first 11 months of 2020 the local hotels received 34,253 Russians, the figure for the year dropped by 87.7%, and of these 30.5 thousand were on the island in January.

Dadunhai Bay in Sanya, where at the same time last year you could hear Russian speech and music everywhere and see numerous Russian tourists at souvenir shops, tea stores and massage parlors, has almost completely managed to rearrange itself to meet the needs and demands of domestic tourists in recent months.

“Now I have no opportunity to practice Russian, almost all visiting foreigners speak Chinese, I have even forgotten all the words in English and Russian that I knew,” complained the manager of one of the restaurants on the waterfront.

In turn, Svetlana, who works as a singer in the only open Russian restaurant on the waterfront of Dadunhai Bay, which the reporter managed to find, said that “this year I just want to forget.

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“We opened in April, in March it was still impossible for a caterer to work, of course, the difference with the vulgar years is felt. Dadunhai is considered a Russian bay, everyone who has been here knows, it is impossible to walk here and not meet the Russians. We are used to having discos and celebrations every day. Of course, without our Russian tourists, our cafe was more affected by the pandemic than others, because we worked specifically for the Russian-speaking audience”, said Svetlana.

She recalled that “last December people were dancing, there were many guests from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

“By New Year’s Eve there are always a lot of people coming, who like to relax noisy and fun, try to stay just in Dadunhai, it’s a Russian bay. But now there is almost nothing left of Russian restaurants here. We do not remove Russian dishes from the menu, and there are cafes that have removed them completely, “- said the interlocutor.

She complained that she often has no one to talk to in her native language, “there is no one to sing for the Chinese, they come and listen to me singing, and they like it, but anyway, I’m a Russian singer, I sing in Russian, I want to sing for those who understand those songs.

Shopaholics to the delight of

With the improvement in the epidemiological situation, the relaxation of quarantine measures in the country and the intensification of domestic tourism, the Chinese are increasingly going to Hainan, but not only for the sun, sea and beautiful pictures, but also for shopping.

According to the latest figures from the Hainan Provincial Department of Commerce, this year the total sales of the four duty-free stores on the island exceeded 30 billion yuan ($4.58 billion), 25 billion yuan came from sales of duty-free goods, the remaining 5 billion yuan came from goods subject to duties.

Local authorities, realizing that the Duty Free stores on the island will be extremely popular for quite a long time, from July to increase the annual shopping quota from 30 thousand yuan to 100 thousand yuan per person, the list of goods sold without duty, has been expanded to 45, it also included cell phones and laptops. Thus, thanks to various incentives, the average level of sales in Duty Free stores exceeded 120 million yuan a day, growth in annual terms was more than 200%.

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Life goes on

Hainan’s beaches certainly can’t boast snow-white sand, gourmet restaurants, peace and quiet, but the country’s residents can find here everything for the vacation they are used to and like.

Many Chinese do not go to the sea for a chocolate tan and swimming in the sea, they often prefer to lie under umbrellas with their clothes on, walk in the sand with shoes on, go boating, ferries, jet skis, inflatable bananas, hold a variety of photo shoots, recently become very popular snorkeling, surfing and diving. All this they can offer Hainan.

And if in the past residents often ignored Hainan, including because it was expensive, preferring to go to their neighbors in Southeast Asia or Europe, but in the current circumstances are quite satisfied with the fact that the country has its own island, where it is warm all year round.

“Last year in winter I went to Thailand, it was warmer and cheaper, but this year my family and I decided to come here, and there is not much of a choice yet. To tell you the truth, we are satisfied,” said a young woman, choosing mangoes in a fruit shop.

150 thousand tourists stranded in Hainan, Chinese authorities suppress protests

Chinese authorities have suppressed protests in Hainan that erupted after 150,000 tourists were stranded on the island due to anti-hiking restrictions. On August 15, authorities opened the airports and allowed some travelers to leave.

The government suspended all flights, trains and ferries through the Qiongzhou Strait on Aug. 6 as a measure to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, which began Aug. 1. Small parties of tourists were allowed to leave the island by charter flights on August 9.

Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said Aug. 13 that about 150,000 tourists were stranded on the island. She ordered provincial authorities to allow tourists to leave the island with certain conditions, and other provinces to accept residents who return home.

“Hainan province must assess the risk and take strict measures to allow travelers to leave the island,” Sun said. – Tourists must be transferred from point to point.”

A condition of departure is that the traveler has no contact with anyone diagnosed in the previous two weeks. Point-to-point transfer means that people will have no contact with anyone who is not a resident of Hainan while traveling from the island to their hometown. They will be quarantined as soon as they arrive at their destination.

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A health worker watches as residents and tourists line up to be tested for COVID-19 in Sanya, southern China's Hainan province, Aug. 8, 2022. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

A health worker watches as residents and tourists line up to be tested for COVID-19 in Sanya, southern China’s Hainan province, Aug. 8, 2022. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

Beijing has warned local officials that they will be fired if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs or if the outbreak worsens in the region they manage. On the evening of August 14, three officials from Hainan were fired and placed under investigation after nearly 1,200 new cases of infection were reported on the island.

People are suffering from severe anti-covid restrictions. Since Aug. 6, they have been locked in their homes, faced steep increases in food prices and experienced shortages of various goods. Tourists are not allowed to leave and have to pay for expensive hotels.

On August 13, tourists stranded in various hotels began protesting in front of or on the grounds of the hotels. They were shouting:

The protesters were quickly dispersed by the police.

The door of a hotel in Sanya was sealed by police on August 14 after tourists protested, Hong Kong pro-Beijing newspaper MingPao reported on August 15. The report said that 11 hotel employees were diagnosed with COVID-19 on the morning of Aug. 14, and authorities announced to tourists stuck at the hotel that they must stay at the hotel for another 10 days to make sure they were free of the virus. Among the protesters were British citizens.

Outbreaks across the country.

The Chinese government said COVID-19 had spread widely in recent days and infected more people in Tibet, Xinjiang, Qinghai, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Fujian, Guizhou, Yunan, Shandong, Beijing and Shanghai.

A health worker takes a swab sample from a woman for COVID-19 testing in Shanghai, China, July 31, 2022. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)

A health worker takes a swab sample from a woman for COVID-19 testing in Shanghai, China, July 31, 2022. (Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)

On the evening of August 13, shoppers at the IKEA Shanghai Xuhui store made a run for it.

While people were shopping, security officers locked the doors because a man suspected of being infected with COVID-19 entered the store. Shanghai residents recalled being locked out of stores, restaurants, gyms, factories and stadiums for days in April when the city declared a three-month lockdown this year.

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Frightened, some shoppers rushed to the exits, pushed the doors held by security, and ran away.

Those who could not escape were locked in the store until the morning of August 14. They wrote on social media that around 12:30 p.m. they were loaded onto buses and sent to various quarantine centers, they do not know when they can return home or how much quarantine will cost.

In Tibet, the outbreak has spread from Lhasa, Shigatse and Ngari to Lhok, Nagku and Nyingchi.

It is not yet clear when authorities will lift the lockdown in cities where COVID-19 outbreaks have been reported. Since the first outbreak, which began in Wuhan in January 2020, people have had difficulty moving around China.

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