A yacht sails at a bay in Sanya, South China’s Hainan Province. Photo: VCG
With “characteristic towns” popping up all over China, the local government of South China’s Hainan Province recently announced it would build eight yacht towns by the end of 2025. It can’t be denied that yachting and related sea activities have been quickly developing on the island province, but experts and industrial insiders are still in doubt about whether there are enough potential consumers and tourists who would visit and spend money in those towns once they are built.
In recent years, “characteristic towns” have been springing up across China, including automobile towns and esports towns. Now, “yacht towns” are also becoming a thing, especially in South China’s Hainan Province.
The Hainan port regulator issued a statement on June 30, noting that Hainan will set up eight “characteristic and correlated yacht towns” by the end of 2025.
It also noted that the income of Hainan’s yacht tourism sector should account for more than 10 percent of the province’s overall tourism income by that time.
But can Hainan make its ambition become a reality?
Yachting in China
The Hainan provincial government is drawing its blueprint for yacht towns after witnessing a rising trend of yachting in China in recent years.
Hainan is actually not the first to propose the idea of yacht towns. The local government of Taizhou in East China’s Zhejiang Province recently initiated more than a dozen public-private partnership projects, including those related to road greening and scenic spot development, in order to build a yacht town, according to media reports.
Xu Jingkun is a yachting veteran born in East China’s Shandong Province. He is currently in Fiji in the middle of his around-the-world sailing trip and is scheduled to arrive in Hainan in December.
“China’s yachting industry is in a fledging period compared with many other countries. But if we look back to several years ago, there were almost no yacht clubs in China. Now, those clubs, as well as yachting equipment providers, are spreading all over the country,” Xu told the Global Times on Monday via WeChat.
Xu, who used to receive annual sailing training in Xiuying port of Haikou, Hainan’s provincial capital, said he’s rather satisfied with what the island can offer for a professional sailor like him.
“The services provided in Hainan, like the facilities of some yachting clubs there or the maintenance of yachts, have all impressed me,” he said.
“I have noticed the government’s efforts [to promote the sport], and considering such industrial development, I believe China will become a good global sailing destination in the future,” Xu noted.
Lacking a target audience?
Although there has been rapid development in the yachting industry in recent years, some industrial insiders and experts have expressed doubts over whether yacht towns can actually become a success.
Hu Xiaoming, deputy general manager of the Sanya-based Visun Royal Yacht Club, said that despite the rise of the sport in Hainan, so far, there have not been enough “adhesive customers” to support the running of such towns.
According to Hu, there are several types of yacht consumers: Companies that buy yachts for commercial use, sportspeople or hobbyists who buy yachts for leisure, or tourists who hire yachts for fun when on vacation.
“From my observation, yacht-hiring for tourism purposes in our club has surged over the past two years, but sales of yachts to individual customers have dropped,” he said, noting that yacht owner usage rates are not very high.
But in Hu’s opinion, it is adhesive consumption, buying and constant usage that matter the most in supporting the future of yacht towns.
“In France, many middle-class families buy a small yacht and leave it in a port. At weekends, they often sail it from one port to another. In China, however, are there many consumers who have so much time, insight [about sea travel] and consumption power that it will push them to continuously spend money on yachting? I doubt it,” Hu noted.
He also pointed out that several places in Hainan have become bases for sea sport activities, like Riyuewan, a bay in Wanning, a small city on the island where many people go surfing because they can take advantage of the big waves there.
“Those places might be fit for developing characteristic towns because they have unique [geographic] attractions, but you can’t just pick a couple of random places in Hainan and turn them into industrial hotspots,” he said.
Wang Jianmin, a research fellow at the Tourism Research Center under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, also stressed that yacht towns are “too much ahead of time” for domestic travelers’ current consumption levels.
“In Long Beach, US there are about 2,000 yachts anchored there. It could therefore be called a yacht town, but only because the richest people in California are living there. In China, we don’t have so many high-end yacht users. I think that if too many yacht towns are built, some of them would become empty,” Wang told the Global Times on Monday.
Qi Zhihui, founder of the Hainan Estate Manager Alliance, also said that due to the local government’s restrictions on house purchasing, many of Hainan’s real estate companies are seeing their businesses slump and therefore are hesitating to invest in land projects like characteristic towns.
Promoting sea culture
Xie Yilou, president of Jiangsu Nanda Characteristic Town Development Co, said that many local governments in China are rushing to set up characteristic towns. “They are following the herd,” he commented.
For example, the local government of North China’s Hebei Province announced it would build and nurture 82 characteristic towns, according to a notice published by the Hebei Development and Reform Commission in June.
Xie said that compared with some regions, which are building characteristic towns from scratch, Hainan’s natural conditions and industrial basis for building such areas therefore make its future prospects convincing.
“It’s just that the local government should let things happen step by step,” he told the Global Times on Tuesday.
Xu said that the central government can launch policies to attract overseas sailors, such as offering free anchoring spots for overseas yachters, reducing yacht charges and simplifying related administrative procedures to boost the industry.
He also said that the Hainan provincial government should put more efforts into nurturing people’s love for sea entertainment, like organizing yacht festivals and competitions.
“I think Hainan has strong potential in exploring [sea-related industries], but it needs the right guidance and support from the government to have a brighter future,” he said.
Newspaper headline: Sailing into the future of tourism