Marriot Sanya
The marketing spin has been that Hainan Island is the "Hawaii of China" but up until the past 12 months the reality has not quite matched the hype.

Times, though, are fast changing on China’s southernmost territory with the local government this year adding duty-free shopping and opening up its pristine waters to the international yachting community in an effort to lure more tourists to the island.

Hainan – which boasts a tropical climate – is also undergoing a resort-building boom with the Hilton  and Marriott chains already this year becoming the latest to develop sites on the island which only saw its first "international-style" resort built in 1999.

Government policy is now that Hainan must be a "top international tourism destination," and from April 20 duty free shopping will be available to both domestic and international tourists.

The service was brought in for foreign tourists from January 1 this year but fellow Chinese too will benefit as the island tries to increase its share of the estimated two billion Chinese who will travel around their own country this year.

Overall in 2010, 25.87 million overnight tourists visited Hainan, but only 663,000 came from overseas, according to the local tourism board.

And so the well-heeled international yachting community is being courted with the news that foreign yachts can now stay for a combined period of 183 days per year – with no stay lasting longer than 30 days – and that 13 more ports are going to be built around Hainan specifically to cater for this market.

Hainan has been aggressively marketed within China over the past decade and has lured international events such as the Miss World pageant and last year’s Mission Hills Star Trophy – which featured a selection of Hollywood A-listers including Catherine Zeta-Jones – as it tries to increase its profile overseas.

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