Exploring Hainan, China's tropical island

African journalists join young women from the Miao minority tribe in their popular bamboo dance.

Adventure presents numerous encounters with the world and transforms global economies through tourism, which creates demand and growth for many economic sectors such as job creation.

For instance, statistics from China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism show that in 2018, China's tourism revenue grew 10.5 percent to 5.97 trillion yuan (about $881 billion) up from $258 billion in 2017.

This only proves how China has risen on the list of best global tourist destinations, as millions of holidaymakers throng the country to explore its rapid modernisation, diverse culture and prehistoric structures such as the Great Wall and the Forbidden City.

With over 61 million inbound tourists annually, China now ranks fourth after France, Spain and the United States (US) on the global tourism index, according to the 2018 United Nations (UN) World Tourism Rankings.

To appreciate the country's touristic value, therefore, I and nearly 50 other journalists from 49 developing African and Asia Pacific countries recently toured the island province of Hainan along the South China Sea.

For the majority of the African team, Hainan's climatic conditions were reminiscent of home due to its familiar weather averaging 26 degrees Celsius.

Sprawling over the tip of the island is the city of Sanya, home to 614,647 people (as of 2018), two districts, six towns, 19 harbours and 10 major islets.

The city also has about a hundred lavish hotel chains and glittering skyscrapers as well as unique attractions such as the famous Phoenix Island Resort, an artificial archipelago on the city with four spectacular towers built around 2012.

Among its credentials is the glittering Sanya City Arena which successfully hosted the 2018 Miss World beauty contest as well as high-profile summits, namely the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India and China) leaders' summit. It will also host the Asian Beach Games in November 2020.

Zhao Yiwen, a general economist at the Sanya Municipal Development and Reform Commission, told visiting journalists that the province is currently China's largest special economic zone (SEZ) and the only provincial-level international tourist island.

A traditional meal from the Li community comprising of fragrant bamboo rice, coconut rice, broccoli, crab and other seafood.

Zhao adds that currently, 59 countries enjoy visa-free status with Sanya.

Overall, Hainan Province is home to about 9.34 million people and over 30 ethnicities.

All these ethnic groups have their own culture, customs and history with the Li being the largest minority group on the island. But Sanya's cultural heritage and diversity are reflected in the delicious traditional cuisine, art and music adopted by these minorities.

The Li people, for example, perform a traditional bamboo dance, where they come together on festive occasions dressed in folk costumes to dance as an expression of love between young men and women.

According to local officials, foreigners found on the island are primarily tourists or international students from Africa and other parts of the world studying at Hainan Tropical Ocean University (HTOU).

According to the deputy dean of international students at the University, HTOU offers education to hundreds of students, including over 100 foreigners on Chinese government scholarships, of whom over 40 are Africans.

Ivonilde Oliviera, 22, is one of the African students from Comoros, pursuing a degree in environmental engineering at the university. She is optimistic about taking new ideas back into her country from the knowledge and education gained at the school.

"I want to bring positive changes in environmental engineering to my country. To achieve this, I need ideas, money and knowledge. We have a big problem in Cape Verde and Africa in general. People work less than they should," she said.

According to Oliviera, African countries need to improve their public service delivery if the continent is to achieve speedy growth and a swift economic turnover similar to what China has achieved in the last four decades.

*Chris Nhlane is a Malawian journalist working for The Nation newspaper and is one of the participants for the 2019 China Africa Press Centre Programme.

Responsible editor: 陈书敏
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