A tourism development plan for the South China Sea was approved recently and includes visits to the remote Xisha Islands, a Hainan Special Zone News report said.
The report quoted a Hainan provincial tourism bureau source as saying it planned to permit large tour companies the right to organize visits to the islands. Tour groups will only be allowed to visit along designated routes.
The Xisha Islands are more than 180 nautical miles away from Sanya, the southern end of Hainan Island.
Opening the islands to tourists has been long awaited. The islands are renowned for their tropical beauty. The Hainan provincial government proposed to tap the islands' tourism resources back in 1994.
"The islands' scenery is even more beautiful than that of Hainan Island. The seawater is so clear you can see fish more than 10 m under the surface. Tropical plants are everywhere, and there are birds that you cannot find elsewhere," Ouyang Jie, a media worker who visited the islands last year, said.
But Ouyang said she was surprised the islands were being opened to tourism. "The islands are short of drinking water and food, and there are military garrisons based there."
A researcher, who participated in the preparatory study of the plan, told China Daily the scarcity of food and water would not be a problem.
"Tourists will be traveling to the islands on board cruise ships," he said.
The plan's delay was due to getting various parties to agree to it, the researcher said. He asked not to be named.
The provincial tourism bureau declined to give more details about the plan.
An official said the plan's implementation date has yet to be decided.
Source: China Daily