China’s visa-free island attracts foreign tourists with TCM therapy, tailored services

By Hu Yuwei Source:Global Times Published: 2018/6/4 19:13:39

Multilingual employees are highly sought after in Hainan

The number of Russian tourists rose by 380 percent in 2017 from the previous year

Multilingual Chinese graduates are sought after by local businesses

Chinese medicine has become Hainan's new calling card

Russian visitors learn bamboo pole dancing in Qiongzhong Li and Miao Autonomous County, Hainan Province. Photo: Courtesy of Fu Lu

On Yalong Bay, a crescent-shaped inlet of unparalleled natural scenery in Sanya, South China's Hainan Province, some Russian women in glamorous dresses are enjoying the tropical sun while nibbling daintily on exotic fruits.

They are among the many Russians who flock to the island for its beaches, and also for its healthcare services.

In concert with its thriving medical tourism industry, the number of foreign tourists traveling to Hainan has been on the rise since May, when China extended its visa-free access period to 30 days for foreigners from 59 countries, including Russia, Germany, France and the US.

Liu Simin, vice-president of tourism with the Chinese Society for Future Studies, told the Global Times that the visa policy will benefit Hainan's plans for further opening up and reforms.

In April, China announced a new plan to turn Hainan into a pilot zone for further deepening reform and opening-up.

Under the Belt and Road initiative, tourism is gaining new momentum in Hainan, once a key stop along the ancient Maritime Silk Road and now a burgeoning international tourism destination. 

Statistics released by the Hainan Tourism Development Commission showed that the island hosted 232,576 Russian tourists from January to October of 2017, a year-on-year increase of 380 percent.

Huang Qionghua, general manager of local tourism property developer Youcaihua, told the Global Times in a previous report that the number of foreign tourists, especially those from Russia, has been posting a "subtle increase" since the beginning of May.

In order to attract international tourists, travel agencies and chartered airplane operators in Hainan have gone out of their way to promote the island and publicize its various industries.

Extending new air routes, recruiting Russian-speaking staff and launching featured tourism products reflect Hainan's confidence about the booming Russian market. Among all featured tourism products, however, Chinese medicine has quietly become the island's new calling card.

Russian visitors receive traditional Chinese physical therapy at a local sanatorium in Sanya. Photo: Courtesy of Fu Lu

Rapid growth

As an international tourism island, almost all stores and restaurants in Sanya have foreign languages on their awnings, with Russian ranking at the top.

Compared with similar exotic destinations in Southeast Asian countries, Hainan has obvious advantages and a competitive edge, said Wang Haitang, manager of Sanya Holiday Travel Agency. 

"For Russian tourists, Hainan's level of security, urban development and environmental regulations are important factors that ensure a safe and comfortable trip," Wang told the Global Times.

Wang suggests that the island is becoming a popular overseas destination, thanks in part to the number of new direct flights that have opened up in recent years.

Hainan Pearl River International plans to launch flights to Hainan from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ufa, Kazan and Tyumen later this month.

"Based on at least 70 percent occupancy rates, these five new routes are expected to bring more than 5,000 Russian tourists to Hainan each month," the company's manager, Zhang Lijuan, told the Hainan Daily.

At a small store selling beverages, a shop assistant said that all their employees can speak a little Russian. Some local vendors can even bargain with Russian tourists in fluent Russian.

Indeed, most high-end hotels in Hainan have fully adapted to the needs of international tourists. Hainan Pearl River International Travel Co., Ltd recently announced the recruitment of Russian translators. The agency said that, in the following months, new direct flight routes from several Russian cities to Hainan will open.

Chen Min, a student majoring in Russian at the College of Foreign Language at Hainan University, was recruited as a Russian-speaking servant by a four-star hotel in Hainan's capital, Haikou.

"I am mainly responsible for the daily translation for Russian guests and taking care of their personal needs and collecting their feedback," Chen told the Global Times.

"Russian-speaking graduates are becoming more sought-after," Chen added. "Preferably, if they know how to promote local culture and tourism features to foreign clients."

In March, the local municipal government and Sanya Tourism Development Commission jointly released a phrasebook titled 100 Sentences of Practical Russian for Tourism in Sanya to help employees in the local hospitality industry provide more considerate services to Russian-speaking visitors.


Word of mouth

The booming Russian market can also be attributed to positive word-of-mouth among Russians themselves.

Matukhina Klavdila, a Russian national known as the "most beautiful ambassador of Sanya tourism," was deeply impressed by the island's glittering waters and warm folk style when she visited Sanya for the first time in 2011.

She wrote a book of travel poems specifically about Sanya, with photos attached, to document her love for the place. She handed out over 100 copies to her friends and Russian travel enthusiasts, some of whom later came to the city and visited the sites she had recommended.

As China's southernmost province, Hainan is of course famous for its white-sand beaches, coconut trees and pleasant climate, which compensate for cool temperatures and the lack of sunlight in most Russian cities.

Another key driving force luring more Russian tourists to Hainan are featured tourism products and tailored services, such as physical therapy, gourmet travel and ethnic culture tourism.

TCM tourism

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) therapy such as acupuncture and cupping available at hospitals in Haikou are especially popular among Russian visitors.

Tao Ji Resorts Hotel, based in Boao, told the Global Times that they have a special Tai Chi training course and tuina massage (a form of manipulative therapy) for Russian guests. They also offer better prices for frequent visitors who wish to stay for a course of treatment.

Public hospitals in Hainan have also set up a pilot zone for medical tourism. As a foreign medical service innovation experimental field, Sanya International Friendly Chinese Medicine Sanatorium, founded by Sanya Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital, is exploring a series of healthy tourism products.

Tang Yi, director of the Special Treatment Center at the sanatorium, told the Global Times that they have launched promotional campaigns in over 10 cities around Russia to popularize their physical therapy services.

He added that the sanatorium is hiring more multilingual physiotherapists to cater to foreign guests.

Hainan-based acupuncturist Zang Jinpeng, who has been treating foreigners for more than five years, taught himself Russian in order to communicate with the growing number of Russian patients.

Besides treating diseases, he also helps foreign customers understand the essence of TCM and knowledge about healthy diets.

"Due to their climate and diets, Russians are prone to obesity and high blood fat. Therefore, they have a preference for physical fitness programs," Zang said. "Children with cerebral palsy also come here for alternative TCM treatment."

For foreign patients who are not qualified to stay for long-term physical therapy, medical equipment and medicine are allowed to be brought back to Russia.

Haikou intends to further promote its TCM tourism and related products under the slogan of "Tourism + TCM," according to local departments. With China's State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the National Development and Reform Commission setting a target to build 10 new TCM tourism model zones by 2020, Hainan is expected to become a leading pioneering region for TCM tourism.

"Going to Sanya for medical care will become fashionable for Russians in the near future, I can confirm," Wang Haitang said confidently.

Newspaper headline: Tour and heal

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