FEATURE: Seas of potential

BEIJING (China Daily/ANN) - Island tourism is luring a growing number of Chinese travellers.

About a third of outbound Chinese travellers opt for island destinations, according to a report by the International Islands Tourism Conference in Zhejiang province’s Zhoushan in late August.

That’s as outbound travel from China increased nearly 15 per cent to 150 million visits.

About 70 islands in China and overseas have become major destinations for Chinese, the report says. Over 40 per cent of them generate at least a fifth of their GDP from tourism.

“Island tourism enables people to enjoy nature and improve health,” Zhejiang’s vice-governor, Cheng Yuechong, told the conference hosted by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and Zhejiang’s government.

Tourism players from 24 countries and regions attended to discuss co-operation and seek ways to better tap islands’ potential.

“We hope to strengthen exchanges with well-known island destinations around the world and jointly develop a high-quality island-tourism industry,” Cheng says.

A total of 21 project agreements, involving nearly 50 billion yuan ($6.9 billion), were signed at the conference.

They included island parks in Zhejiang, and culture-and-tourism projects between China and other countries.

Italy’s Sicily and Sardinia; Indonesia’s Java and Bali; China’s Hainan; Sri Lanka; Singapore; the Philippines’ Luzon; South Korea’s Jeju; and Thailand’s Koh Samui are ranked among the top 30 island destinations in terms of tourism competitiveness, according to a list of 171 islands compiled by the China Tourism Academy.

Sri Lanka received over 265,000 Chinese travellers last year, making China the country’s No 2 inbound-travel source market, Sri Lanka’s Tourism and Christian Affairs Minister Ranjith Aluwihare says.

The island nation received 2.3 million inbound visits, generating $43.8 billion, in 2018.

“The conference can help us get the latest state of play in island countries and understand new tourism-related technology,” Aluwihare says.

The nation experienced a terrorism attack earlier this year, which significantly affected tourism.

“Sri Lanka has returned to a normal state, and we are a safe country,” he says.

It has offered visa-free entry to visitors from 48 countries, including China, since August. The policy will last until 2020.

“We also have various discounts for travellers and are looking forward to more travellers exploring our country,” Aluwihare says.

Tourism potential has also enticed Chinese islands to take action.

The country has over 6,500 islands larger than 500 square metres.

Many feature mountain scenery, biodiversity, and historical and cultural sites.

Some of the most popular island destinations in China last year were in such provinces as Fujian, Jiangsu, Hebei, Guangdong, Zhejiang, Shandong, Hainan, and Liaoning, the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, and Shanghai, the China Tourism Academy reports.

The country’s coastal tourism’s added value reached 1.61 trillion yuan in 2018, up 8.3 per cent compared with the previous year, the Ministry of Natural Resources says.

The Zhoushan conference showed China’s island-tourism market exceeds 100 billion yuan. Participating agencies predict island bookings’ annual compound-growth rate will reach 35 per cent in the next three years.

The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road’s development has also boosted China’s island travel.

About a quarter of tourists travelling between China and countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative opt for island experiences, official figures show.

Zhejiang’s islands received 100 million visits in 2018, and tourism income surpassed 150 billion yuan.

The province has 260,000 square kilometres of sea area and a 6,700-km coastline.

The provincial government has proposed building 10 island parks, and developing tea, silk and porcelain experiences among its island destinations.

Cruising, yachting, fishing and homestays will be developed. And infrastructure, including transportation and communications, will be improved, Cheng says.

Zhoushan has opened 24-hour convenience stores to meet travellers’ needs.

Seafood, barbecue stalls and bars enhance nightlife. Over 30 nightclubs have extended their closing times to between 3 and 5 am.

The city’s Putuo Poly theatre has staged more than 660 shows between 2013 and 2018, racking up 270,000 visits.

Zhoushan’s government will host music festivals, sand-sculpture shows, stunt-kite events and fishing carnivals in September.

“There have been huge changes in Zhoushan, especially its island tourism,” says Pacific Asia Travel Association China director Wu Bo, who first visited the city in 2015.

China’s island tourism started relatively late, but the country’s economic development has created encouraging conditions for its future development, Wu says.

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