Is Hainan’s Hotel Boom Making It “China’s Hawaii” Or Its Orlando?

China’s Hotel Occupancy Rate Is Lowest In Asia

Artist rendering of the upcoming Longmu Bay resort in Hainan

Artist rendering of the upcoming Longmu Bay resort in Hainan

Over the past five years, China has been in the midst of a hotel-building boom that has seen the number of hotels throughout the country jump 62 percent. But despite the country’s vast population and growing demand from business travelers, a recent study by the consulting and research group STR Global found that China’s hotel occupancy rate is the lowest among 15 Asian countries, sitting at just 61 percent for the first nine months of 2011. Too heavily weighted towards four- and five-star hotels or high-priced international brands in some cities, China clearly remains a difficult hotel market despite the bullishness (and continued construction) of the world’s largest chains. According to Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels, by 2013 the number of hotels in China should rise another 52 percent.

But despite the difficulties faced by hoteliers in mainland China, how has China’s hotel surge manifested on the southern province of Hainan? Over the last two years, the Chinese government has sought to reposition the tropical island into an international tourism destination on par with Hawaii or Bali, and hotel brands from around the world have been quick to pile in. The island certainly isn’t short on tourists, recording 21.6 million arrivals from January to September of this year, and these visitors are definitely spending, leaving 21.5 billion yuan (US$3.37 billion) behind over the same period — a respectable percentage of that going to Sanya’s new duty-free shop. According to the Hainan Tourist Bureau, Hainan is now home to 209 starred hotels, among them 22 five-star resorts and 20 at “five-star standards” but not yet ranked. At the moment, plans have already been drawn up for another 40 premium hotels, with the majority expected to break ground in Sanya, the provincial capital.

Though tourist arrivals are rising on the island, feeding the hotel boom even further, many are worried that what’s emerging in Hainan’s intense push to become an international tourism hotspot is not a distinctive, memorable and exotic getaway but one that could end up simply being homogeneous, bland and sterile.

Via CNNGo, which asks this week, is Hainan island becoming “heaven or hell for luxury hotels?”:

Hainan’s official news site Hinews.cn posted a report yesterday, voicing concerns over Sanya’s fast expanding luxury hotel scene and the homogenization of its luxury hotels and resorts.

The report quoted a senior hotel management officer surnamed Xu, saying that all the international high-end hotels in Hainan have lost their own brand characteristics –- they are highly similar to each other and a lot of them are just copying other tropical-style resorts.

“[What Hainan is doing right now] is just introducing a few international brands, then copying the [decor and architecture] from those in Southeastern Asia or Hawaii — they don’t have a lasting attraction to travelers,” lamented Xu.

“Why can’t these hotels promote their native Hainan style instead of playing copycat”” Xu asked.

Dr. Zhao Quanpeng (赵全鹏) of Hainan University noted in the same report that the homogenization of luxury hotels in Hainan is caused by Chinese people’s misconception that “Western lifestyle is more cultured” and “the more luxurious the hotel is, the more cultured the customers”.

Sanya Duty-Free Shop

Sanya Duty-Free Shop

Though it’s important that people are starting to question the effect, both aesthetic and cultural, that the current building boom will have on the personality of Hainan island — island natives have been concerned about the effect it’ll have on property costs for the last several years — the pace of construction and dozens of hotels already in the pipeline means it’s unlikely Hainan will soon see a dramatic shift in hotel design and identity.

With so many new developments slated for Sanya and Yalong Bay in the next few years, among them vast resorts like the Caesars Palace Longmu Bay, if critics like Zhao and Xu are correct and what emerges throughout the island is a string of lavish but wholly unoriginal four- and five-star hotels, ultimately tourists might see Hainan not as China’s Hawaii but rather its Orlando.

 

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