SANYA, Hainan, May 19 -- Lu Hanying, 43, the English graduate who set up China's first English website promoting Sanya on south China's Hainan island, is revamping her website for National Tourism Day.
The southernmost city in China, once an isolated and desolate area, has been turned into an international resort in three decades. According to Sanya's statistics authority,12.3 million tourists visited the city last year, almost 100 times more than in 1987.
"When I set up the website 10 years ago, there was little about Sanya to tell foreigners. I had to work hard, but now I have plenty of orders," she said. More than 100 foreign tourists make bookings through Lu's site each month. She also owns a hotel in Yalong Bay in southern Sanya, the home of China's first five-star hotel. Now the bay is home to 13 five-star hotels.
"The development of Yalong Bay epitomizes the story of Sanya becoming an international tropical coastal resort," said Wang Yong, mayor of Sanya.
Sanya took a quantum leap in 2003, when it became the first Chinese city to host the Miss World pageant. "People across the world came here to watch beautiful women, and to their surprise were impressed by the natural beauty of the place," Lu said. Since then Sanya has hosted the pageant four times and is a popular destination for international sports and cultural events.
The city got another boost in 2010 when China's cabinet, the State Council, decided to make Hainan into an international tourism island. Local infrastructure and high-end tourism have expanded since, with duty-free shops, golf courses, and yachting all flourishing. The world's largest duty-free shop will open this year in Sanya and the city boasts 243 hotels with an annual capacity of over 20 million people.
The rise of Sanya and other destinations is partly a result of China's drive to develop tourism. In 2009, tourism became a strategic pillar of the national economy and policy. The number of domestic travelers in China rose from 870 million in 2003 to 3.3 billion in 2013. Chinese outbound departures hit 98.2 million in 2013, up from 20.2 million in 2003, according to China National Tourism Administration.
In 2011, the government declared May 19 National Tourism Day in memory of writer Xu Xiake who traveled around China for more than 30 years. He writing his travel book on May 19, 1613.
China is already the world's second-largest travel and tourism economy, with each Chinese person making an average two and a half trips last year, and the momentum is expected to continue.
David Scowsill, president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council said in April that Chinese tourism market is expected to grow 7 percent annually for the next 10 years, and may overtake the United States in 2023.