Chinese move could improve tourist awareness of Spratly Islands

The Spratly group of islands, the ownership status of which is currently the subject of a dispute between China and the Philippines, could soon see an increase in tourist potential if a Chinese plan is successful.

According to reports, a city in southern China is planning to extend a tourism route to the disputed islands in the West Philippines Sea. State media in China said that Sanya City, a well-known tourist destination in the Southern Chinese province of Hainan, was planning to expand tourism to the islands. As per the 10-year plan, Sanya was planning to add the island chains of Zhongsha and Nansha (the Spratlys) to a cruise route. The move would be certain to enhance tourism in the area.

The planned route would extend the luxury cruise lane that is now being tested to the Xisha Islands, media reports have claimed. The Xisha islands are one of the major island groups in the West Philippine Sea, also known as the South China Sea. Chinese authorities said that the Sanya City tourism plan, to run from 2012 to 2022, had passed an expert panel’s evaluation. It is further believed that the plan is waiting to be approved and endorsed by provincial authorities in Hainan.

Earlier this year, tourism officials had tested a cruise to Yongxing, which is the main island in the Xisha island chain. It is expected that the island chain will be opened to tourists within a year. The ten-year plan to develop the islands will also include two other island chains to the cruise lane, Zhongsha and the Spratlys.

While China has laid claim to all of the Spratlys, they are partially claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Sansha City was constituted to administer these three island groups in the disputed waters.

Tourism boom threatening heritage sites in China

The booming tourism growth in China is threatening the country’s heritage sites.

With China’s economy currently firing on all cylinders, domestic tourism has increased dramatically. In addition, globalisation has brought more foreign visitors to experience a country that was once behind the Bamboo Curtain. However, the increase in tourism has affected the upkeep of heritage sites in the country with many now believed to be under threat from irresponsible tourism. Some sites are thought to be under greater threat than others.

One example is the tiny village of Zili in southern China, famous for its Kaiping watchtowers, which make it a UNESCO world heritage site. The site houses hundreds of abandoned watchtowers in the Pearl River Delta. Surrounding the watchtowers are rice fields and lush bamboo groves. Families and villagers supposedly built the ornate towers during the early 19th and 20th centuries when it was common for hoards of bandits to attack. The turrets in the watchtowers helped villagers to look out for such attacks.

However the Kaiping watchtowers, also known as diaolou, are finding it more difficult to defend themselves against the ever-increasing number of tourists and the destruction they leave behind. Hoards of tourists are visiting these sites to take photos and to taste what is known locally as ‘peasant family foods’. The rustic charm of the village is an attractive selling point for tourists, who see a visit simply as a means of amusement. The state is also using other UNESCO sites to help develop backward rural areas.

China now has 43 world heritage sites, and the nation is trying to include more sites on the list, as listings attract tourists with money to spend. The downside is that at many heritage sites, conservationists are losing a battle against commercialisation.

Authorities are now trying to limit the number of customers by using various means, such as increasing costs or restricting visitor numbers.


Huangshan Mountain back in action

Tourists have been welcomed back to Huangshan Mountain in China by the authorities who had closed the site for safety reasons.

The mountain site had been closed due to typhoon Haikui and has now re-opened. The site, a UNESCO World Heritage site in east China’s Anhui Province, had been closed for a short time as typhoon Haikui made her presence felt in the region.

Authorities had evacuated 19,000 people before the typhoon arrived on Wednesday. The typhoon had lashed the area with heavy winds and rains and some damage was inflicted on structures in the area. Tourism activities had to be halted as the authorities worked overtime to control damage and provide aid to those immediately affected.

Concerns about the safety of the 150 ancient trees located in the area were put to rest after it was revealed that the Huangshan Mountain administration office’s forestry department had dispatched enough manpower to protect those trees located in scenic areas.

The department has also made a plea to tourists to heed safety alerts and pay attention to information regarding closures of some areas in the region. Tourism authorities will be busy with protecting the trees and it was considered that an influx of tourists would be an unnecessary distraction. The authorities also said that water sports on the area’s rivers would be prohibited until the typhoon has passed.

Typhoon Haikui became a severe tropical storm on Wednesday afternoon. It had landed in China’s Zhejiang Province early on Wednesday and has previously visited Shanghai, as well as the Anhui and Jiangsu provinces.

CTR event launched in Shanghai

The inaugural China Travel Retail (CTR) event was launched at the Marriott City Centre Hotel in Shanghai.

The first day of the event, which also hosted an exhibition, attracted about 180 delegates, and was intended to provide an insight into how the Shanghai Hongqiao airport is responding to demand for an improved travel-retail requirement from passengers.

The event was opened with a presentation from Shanghai Hong Kong Airport Management executive vice-general manager, Michael Yuan. He said that the 17,000sq m of commercial space at Hongqiao airport has to cater to the needs of about 33 million passengers a year. About 90 percent of the passengers are domestic travellers and 10 percent are international travellers.

Yuan said, ‘We have just 17,000sq m for commercial purposes so how can we maximise commercial opportunity and meet needs of passengers? We can’t devote the whole area to first-class brands as need to consider food and beverage. The rapid development of other airports in Shanghai, rivals from downtown retail and insufficient commercial space to satisfy our requirements are all challenges we must overcome. The existing retail portfolio, management systems and communication platform must all be adjusted. We have limited space so needed to plan carefully, but have made a great breakthrough among our piers in being the first to introduce Armani and Hermes stores in Chinese travel-retail.’

Hainan Duty Free Goods vice-chairman and general manager, Wang Yong Fan, said that the developing duty-free policy for travellers would do a lot of good for domestic businesses.


China to Invest In Tibetan Tourism

China’s state media has announced a $4.8bn tourism project to be centred on Lhasa, Tibet’s capital city.

The massive investment, which is intended to draw more visitors to the region, will include a theme park, a commercial district and a residential area, according to quotes attributed to Lhasa vice-mayor, Ma Xinming, by the official Xinhua news agency.

According to Xinhua, Ma said the project would create a ‘living museum’ for Tibetan culture as well as relieving pressure on tourist attractions in Lhasa’s old city and developing Tibet’s tourism industry.

The first phase of the project, a mile or so from downtown Lhasa, will reportedly take three to five years to complete.

The planned theme park is to be based on princess Wencheng, a Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) royal who married a Tibetan ruler. It is thought that the Chinese authorities are using the theme to help emphasise the close historic ties between China and Tibet at a time when dissent over Chinese rule is rife in the country.

Tibetans feel that their religious freedom has been curbed and that Tibetan culture is under threat from a growing influx of Han Chinese. Such is the level of animosity over Chinese rule that on May 27 this year, two Tibetans protested by setting themselves on fire in front of the Jokhang Temple, a major Buddhist pilgrimage centre. State media refuted claims that China closed Tibet to travellers following the incident.

China counters the protestors’ claims, saying that Tibetans do have religious freedom and that living standards have improved in the country, thanks to China’s economic expansion, and that another feature of the new development will be a centre dedicated to Tibetan art and customs.

According to official figures, tourism to Tibet was up by 24 percent in 2011, from the previous year, with a total of 8.5 million visitors. The regional government’s target for this year is 10 million visitors.

Ctrip Partners with Marriott International International, a China-based travel service provider of hotel accommodation, airline tickets and packaged tours in China, is to partner with global hotel conglomerate, Marriott International, to offer the hotel company’s products to Chinese travellers.

The new partnership between the two companies will be offering Chinese travellers a range of hotel accommodation and reward opportunities at around 3,600 participating hotels worldwide, which are operated by Marriott.

Members of the Marriott Rewards loyalty programme may now earn Ctrip reward points when booking stays at Marriott International branded hotels across the world. Both companies are also intending to offer Double Ctrip Points to Marriott Rewards and Ctrip members.

Simon Cooper, the company president and managing director of Marriott International, Asia Pacific, said, ‘This industry-first partnership brings together the leading hotel loyalty programme and the leading travel agency in China to provide the best possible customer service and guest experience to Marriott Rewards members and Ctrip users in China. It reflects our commitment to meeting the needs of Chinese guests and partnering with exceptional Chinese companies such as Ctrip.’

Fan Min, the company president and chief executive officer for Ctrip, said, ‘Ctrip has always been devoted to creating more value for its customers. The partnership between Ctrip and Marriott is an outstanding example of cooperation between an online travel company and the hotel industry. It’s mutually beneficial for Marriott, Ctrip and our customers. As a result of this expanded partnership, Ctrip customers and Marriott Rewards members can enjoy even more rewards and benefits.’


New Sheraton Jiaozhou Hotel Opens in China

Sheraton Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, a subsidiary of US-based Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, has announced the opening of its new Sheraton Jiaozhou Hotel, located near Qingdao city, on the Shandong Peninsula Coast, in China’s eastern region.

The new hotel is owned by Qingdao Greentown Jiaozhou Bay Real Estate Development Company, and has 270 guest rooms, including 31 suites.

Hoyt Harper, the global brand leader for Sheraton Hotels, said, ‘Sheraton debuted in Beijing as the first international brand hotel in China and we are very excited that Sheraton Jiaozhou Hotel is the first international brand hotel in Jiaozhou. Sheraton’s impressive global pipeline is being fuelled by phenomenal demand in China with 12 new Sheraton hotels slated to open across this fast-growing market by year’s end driven by strong demand in second and third tier cities.’

The hotel lobby features the brand’s Link@Sheraton, experienced with Microsoft, a signature social hub for business travellers that offers immediate access to information and technology for work and leisure. The other amenities include lifestyle options such as new Sheraton Fitness programme by Core Performance for fitness lovers; the Shine Spa for Sheraton for relaxation; the Sheraton Club lounge offering complimentary food and beverages, and leisure facilities for Sheraton Club guests; as well as dining venues including the YUE Chinese Restaurant and Feast, the all day dining restaurant.

Bi Ming Guang, the assistant general manager of Qingdao Greentown Jiaozhou Bay Real Estate Development Company, said, ‘The opening of Sheraton Jiaozhou Hotel enhances the strategic positioning of the Jiaozhou New District.’


Starwood Hotels Announces More Hotels in Greater China

With hotel conglomerates InterContinental Hotels Group and Hilton already having made further inroads into the Chinese market, US-based hotel company Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide is to launch its newest expansion plans for Greater China.

While Starwood currently operates around 100 hotels in the Asia Pacific region, the company has announced that another 100 hotels are in the pipeline for the area. Greater China is the company’s second largest market, outside of the US.

The company previously opened 11 hotels in China in 2012, and intends to open another 13 hotels by the year-end.

Speaking at the celebrations at the Sheraton Shanghai Hongkou Hotel for the company’s Asia Pacific Investor Day, Vasant Prabhu, vice chairman and chief financial officer of the company, said, ‘Our celebration of our more than 100 hotels in operation and 100 hotels in the pipeline marks another significant milestone for Starwood’s growth and development in China as we double our footprint in the region. Our success in China reflects our first mover advantage, the strength of our brands and the entrusted partnerships we have fostered with our developers, partners, and guests since our first landmark debut with The Great Wall Sheraton Hotel in Beijing in 1985.’

Sheraton Hotels is expected to play the lead in the company’s expansion plans in the region, by offering around 90 hotels in Greater China by 2016.

Simon Turner, the company president for global development, said, ‘With more high end hotels in China today than any of our competitors, our long lead will be enhanced by the record number of new hotels we have in our pipeline.’

The Luxury Collection Hotels and Resorts Expands Across the Globe

The Luxury Collection of Hotels & Resorts, a luxurious hotel brand from Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, will be opening ten hotels and resorts in cities and resort destinations globally within the next year.

The brand will be opening new hotels shortly in Shanghai and Sanya in China, Jaipur and Chennai in India, the Blue Mountains in Australia, Koh Samui, in Thailand, and Jakarta, Indonesia.

The Luxury Collection of hotels will be offering the brand’s signature Luxury Collection Concierge services, opulent amenities, and local cultural experiences to its guests. The brand is currently offering around 80 hotels and resorts in 30 countries worldwide.

Paul James, the global brand leader, for St Regis and The Luxury Collection Hotels & Resorts, of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, said, ‘This is a milestone for The Luxury Collection as we open ten new hotels and resorts, the most of any year in the brand’s history. As a new generation of global affluent travellers emerge, we are strategically growing our portfolio beyond the traditional luxury grid and in diverse destinations, like China’s Hainan Island and India’s Chennai, that have become important hubs for business and leisure.’

The 142-room Royal Begonia, a Luxury Collection Resort in Sanya, in China will debut in August 2012, while in September 2012, Twelve at Hengshan, a Luxury Collection Hotel in Shanghai will open in China.

The ITC Grand Chola, a Luxury Collection Hotel in Chennai, India will also be opening in August 2012, and The Sarasvati, a Luxury Collection Resort hotel in Bali, is expected to open in January 2014.

Beijing to Host IATA Annual General Meeting in 2012

Aviation industry leaders will be gathering in Beijing, China, next week to discuss the industry issues at the 68th IATA Annual General Meeting (AGM) and World Air Transport Summit, to be held in the Chinese capital by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

IATA, an industry-wide association of 240 airline companies that operate around 84 percent of all global air traffic, will be discussing the industry outlook on various issues, including bio fuels, the effect of social media on the aviation industry, and the future of airline distribution.

The IATA Annual General Meeting will be commencing on June 11, 2012, and will be co-sponsored by Air China, the national air carrier of China.

Tony Tyler, the IATA director general and chief executive officer, said, ‘Oil prices are high, although moderating somewhat from recent peaks. The European sovereign debt crisis is unresolved and we are seeing signs that it is starting to affect Asia’s export-driven economies. And the largely jobless recovery from the 2008 global financial crisis is proceeding at a glacial pace. Passenger demand is strong, cargo is weak and the industry’s profitability remains razor thin.

Beijing is a fitting location for this year’s AGM. It is IATA’s home in North Asia-the location of our largest regional office and largest billing and settlement office, with 132 million tickets processed in 2011. But even more importantly, China is a great aviation success story. The government’s strategy of using aviation to drive economic growth has seen China emerge as an aviation powerhouse.’