BAYS OF PLENTY
Sanya has seen two decades of rampant growth, and with popular Yalong Bay filling up, new resorts are being built in Haitang Bay to the north. Valerian Ho went to investigate
As Sanya, the “Hawaii of China”, becomes increasingly popular, new development is spilling over from Yalong Bay to Haitung Bay
Asia is blessed with a surfeit of tropical resort destinations, where sunshine, beaches and water sports provide the perfect holiday getaway. Compared to the likes of Bali or Phuket, China might not be the first place that springs to mind. However, travel south as far as you can go to the tip of Hainan Island, and you’ll find Sanya – a tropical hotspot known as “the Hawaii of China”, that hosted more than 16 million holidaymakers last year.
Admittedly most of these were domestic tourists, but increasing numbers of foreign visitors are testing Sanya’s waters, drawn by attractively priced international five-star resorts, clean air, an average temperature of 25˚C and cool sea breezes.
Russian tourists in particular are showing an appetite for the tropical Chinese destination, with direct flights now operating from places such as Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk in addition to the country’s main cities.
The majority of international visitors stay in picturesque Yalong Bay, a seven-kilometre arc of golden sand located 10km to the east of the city. Hotel development here began in 1996, as major hotel chains like Marriott, St Regis, Hilton and Ritz-Carlton saw huge potential. With direct access to the beach and a range of water activities from diving to parasailing, these resorts quickly became popular.
More and more resorts opened, until the whole waterfront was packed and hotels were forced to open in the land behind… though with no beachfront space they were at an immediate disadvantage.
With demand continuing to grow, the search for prime land inevitably shifted north to the next crescent of sand: Haitang Bay.
Located 28km east of Sanya’s city centre and a smooth 45-minute drive from the airport on new, modern roads, Haitang Bay is much larger than Yalong, its beach stretching an impressive 42 kilometres. The first hotel, a Conrad, opened in 2010, and others soon followed. It cannot yet compare to the well-developed Yalong Bay – and in one specific area it never will, for the government has banned all water activities in Haitang Bay because of turbulent sea conditions.
This hasn’t put off the developers and hospitality groups, however. Though constrained by a lack of waterborne offerings, hotels and resorts opening in Haitang Bay have developed their own unique selling
points in order to attract guests, focusing on distinctive facilities and attractions.
Understanding that a major portion of the market would be vacationing families, the Grand Hyatt Sanya built something special for kids. Three outdoor pools are each designed for different age groups and cover a total of 2,080 sqm, from the Fun Pool providing slides and water sprays for younger guests, to the Family Pool featuring more complex recreational activities and entertainment. Meanwhile, Camp Hyatt houses indoor and outdoor adventure playgrounds, an activity centre and a junior chef’s kitchen.
In December last year The Sanya Edition became the first of Marriott’s Edition brand in Asia. A luxury lifestyle brand with an oceanfront setting, its signature facility is the spectacular 20,000 sqm Private Ocean, surrounded by landscaped garden and holding ten million gallons of seawater, which is pumped in from the sea and completely replaced every 30 hours or so. It’s an impressive marquee attraction, and gives guests the chance to paddleboard, kayak, sail in sunfish dinghies, pedal a water bike, ride on water motorcycles, use sea scooters… or simply swim in a dedicated area overlooking the South China Sea. You don’t have to
get your feet wet to enjoy it either, with waterside cabanas and a floating deck available if you fancy dinner in the centre of the “ocean”.
Close by is the Haitang Bay International Shopping Complex, a paradise for shopaholics. A 70,000 sqm retail and commercial complex, this curving, ultramodern building integrates duty-free shopping, restaurants, entertainment and cultural venues, and hundreds of premium-brand outlets from Gucci, Burberry and Chanel to Prada, Rolex and Giorgio Armani. Said to be the most high-end duty-free shopping mall in China, its location in Sanya, and specifically in Haitang Bay, shows how much confidence there is in this region’s future prospects.
Incredibly, it seems that Haitang Bay is almost at saturation point already.“The coastline will soon be filled up [with resorts],” says Xavi Gonzalez, general manager of The Sanya Edition.“The next developments will be behind the existing resorts, on a second [inland] line. You can already see the construction sites; some are empty, but they have already been assigned to different big brands. In total, 20 to 30 resorts will be opening in Haitang Bay.”
One of the most dramatic and eagerly anticipated is
Atlantis Sanya, a 62-hectare integrated entertainment resort that’s cost an estimated RMB11 billion (US$1.6 billion). A sister project to Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas and Atlantis, the Palm in Dubai, this huge water-themed park will be complemented by Sanya’s largest hotel, which will have 1,314 rooms in its first phase alone. Scheduled to open by the end of this year, Atlantis Sanya will boast all the facilities people expect of a mega-resort these days, from world-renowned chefs’ restaurants to exotic bars and lounges. The highlight will be the Aquaventure Waterpark, with its fresh and saltwater pools, lagoons, and extensive rides and slides. There will also be marine exhibits – presenting more than 2,600 marine species – including an open-air marine habitat and a dolphin interaction and education centre. Despite its late entrance to the Sanya party, Haitang Bay looks set to shine, bumping up the destination’s appeal for the hordes of sun, sea and sand worshippers to come.
This page clockwise from top: An illustration of Atlantis Sanya; The Sanya Edition; and Haitang Bay International Shopping Complex Opposite page bottom left and right: Tianyahaijiao Rock and Luhuitou Peak Garden