Big plans ahead for the 'Chinese Hawaii'

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The Independent Online

The Chinese Government has started to roll out plans to turn the southern island of Hainan into what is being called a "global destination'' and the private sector has been quick to rally to the cause.

New resorts, visa-free entry to tourists from more countries, duty-free shopping for everyone and the possibility of more sports-betting "lotteries'' to increase revenue flow have been touted by the government as ways to lure the world to a destination commonly referred to as the "Hawaii of China.''

With its pristine beaches, clear waters and relatively untouched rainforests, the southernmost part of the People's Republic currently attracts around 19 million visitors from other parts of China annually and close to one million international tourists.

That last figure is expected to grow as five more nations are this year given visa-free access to Hainan, taking the total to 26, including the United States, Japan and Canada.

The Chinese Government is hoping that by expanding the tourism sector it will be responsible for 12 percent of the island's GDP by 2020.

Initiatives include a feasibility study currently being undertaken looking at the possibility of allow duty-free shopping to domestic tourists while handing tax refunds to those coming from overseas.

There are also tentative steps being taken towards relaxing betting restrictions.

Gambling is officially illegal in China but some lotteries are held on international sports results. The possibility is that this will be extended to sporting events held on the island as well.

A number of major luxury resorts have opened on the island in the past 12 months - including the 297-room Mandarin Oriental a Sanya beach - and developers are now saying they want to build a theme park on the island, to rival the Disneyland schedule to open in Shanghai around 2014.

China Aerospace International Holdings last week announced they are planning to build a space theme park next to the island's satellite launch center for less than one billion yuan (107 million euros).

Facilities at the park would include a rocket built to full scale, a space-themed educational camp and entertainment facilities.

There are also plans to build what is being billed as Asia's biggest hotel.

The 700,000 square foot (65,000 sq m) Mangrove Tree Resort - again at Sanya - will boast 5,600 rooms and come in at a cost of nine billion yuan (914 million euros) and developers have included plans to include a 30,000 square foot (2700 sq m) gaming area, which will boast a greyhound racing track, go-cart track and sports arena designed - hopefully - to take advantage of the government's change to lottery laws.

Fast facts - Hainan Island:

Area: 33,920 square kilometers

Population: 8,450,00

Temperature range: 16-21 degrees Celsius (winter); 25-29 degrees Celsius (summer) (Chinese only)