The opening of duty-free shopping in Sanya City on China’s tropical island province, Hainan, has changed travel patterns to the island.

Recent travel in China has been influenced by a growing demand for luxury goods, which saw a 20% increase in visitor numbers to Sanya over the Labour Day Weekend.

This change has been linked to the island’s new duty-free shopping policy and the opening of the 7000 square metre Sanya Duty Free Store.

Luxury brands were sold out after the holiday that saw lines of shoppers waiting outside the doors of the Sanya Duty Free Store from 5am, with more than 60,000 visitors on Sunday, the third day of the Labour Day holiday.

Tour operators and travel agents have cashed in on this lucrative market, altering tour itineraries to Hainan to centre on shopping, with a highlight being a visit to the Sanya Duty Free Store.

‘We have added duty-free shopping to all our tour packages to Hainan and will arrange regular shopping-themed tours in the future,’ said Zhang Lingjie, director of the domestic tour department at China International Travel Service.

The duty free policy was launched on April 20 and applies to both international visitors and tourists from Mainland China. Tourists must finish their purchases 24 hours before their departure flight and can pick up their goods at Haikou Meilan or Sanya Phoenix international airports when leaving the island.

The policy applies to the sale of goods priced below 5,000 Yuan ($770), which have accounted for 92% of sales since the store’s openings. Customers can save up to 30% on luxury imported goods at the store.

‘These tourists prefer to buy products related to their travel needs, such as branded sunglasses, clothes and diving equipment. They cost several hundred Yuan cheaper than if they were to buy from Shanghai,’ said Assistant General Manager of Domestic Travel, Spring International, Bian Xiang Guo.

‘The number of customers who visit the shop daily could reach at least 15,000 and at most 23,000,’ said Hao Wengang, Marketing Executive of the China Duty Free Group.

Airlines are also increasing flights to the island from Mainland China and international cities to meet the growing demand.

With an annual increase in demand of 20 to 25%, China is expected to become the largest luxury market in the world by 2014, and Hainan, which already boasts sun, sand and surf, is sure to be a hub for luxury shopping.

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