There is a long stretch of sand full of tourists in the Chinese holiday city of Sanya but no one is sunbathing. Aside from a handful of Russians, the local Chinese who make up the majority of beachgoers huddle under umbrellas: for a culture that still prizes pale skin, suntans are not in vogue. Yet business is booming and the tropical island of Hainan, where Sanya and its five-star resorts are located, is fast being dubbed the “Hawaii of the east”.
Hainan attracts the well-heeled and the beautiful. Some holidaymakers sport Speedos, others wear stilettos. Among the many golf courses, spas, shopping malls and resorts that have sprung up are private villas and apartments sold as second homes. Hainan is a short flight from many of China’s traffic- and smog-filled cities and, without the visa requirements needed for foreign travel, it is the perfect weekend getaway.
Escape, though, is largely restricted to the wealthy. Depending on location and ocean views, a 200 sq metre apartment in Sanya will cost a minimum of ￡1m rising to ￡10m for a 700 sq metre super-villa. “Demand is going up,” says Stanley Cheung, senior manager of investment and sales for southern China at the international estate agents Savills. “The house prices [in Hainan] have had 10 to 15 per cent annual growth.”
Yet beach resorts are an anomaly in China. The world’s most populous nation boasts 18,000km of coastline and more than 6,000 islands – but ask any Chinese person to name a famous beach and, aside from those in Hainan, they might struggle. Instead, Chinese tourists prefer to spend their holidays visiting historic cities in Europe and the US – a trend that feeds into second-home purchases.
“We know the Chinese love shopping and they love going to London and Paris,” says Nick Candy, chief executive of Candy & Candy, which co-authored a recent report on the global high-end leisure property market. “The wealthy are buying second homes – we are seeing that in London, whether as investments or for their kids as they study. But they are not necessarily always buying their second homes as leisure homes.”
A lack of alternative investment opportunities in China means that property is considered a primary asset. Hainan was earmarked by the Chinese government as a test case for developing “an internationally competitive tourist destination” in 2010, making property a particularly tempting investment.
“People buy homes in Sanya for two purposes,” says Raymond Hau, general manager of Hainan’s Sun Valley Golf Resort, which plans to build upmarket villas. “One is for the value to increase. Second is for their parents who are retired and cannot stand the cold weather in northern China. In November they start coming in and in April they start leaving.”
Shanghai-based Ms Yao, 55, who requested that only her surname be used, bought a small two-bedroom apartment in Hainan as a holiday home in 2011 and its value has since doubled. “Previously I hadn’t visited Hainan much,” says Yao, who owns multiple properties. “But now I spend nearly all the holidays there. I’m going to retire soon and Hainan is a heaven for elderly people on holiday.”
James Macdonald, head of research for Savills China, believes that demand for holiday homes in Hainan may grow further in the next decade as retirement resorts gain traction in China. Tradition dictates that the elderly stay close to their families who help to care for them. But with a rapidly ageing population this might change for those with means.
For now, however, it is the millionaire jet-setters who are making their presence most felt. Owning a property on Hainan has become a status symbol. New marinas have popped up alongside designer stores, fine-dining restaurants and five-star resorts like the Hilton in Yalong Bay near Sanya. Membership to the Visun Royal Yacht Club in Sanya, one of China’s largest, involves a one-off payment of ￡18,000, plus annual fees. Sanya Deyou Real Estate is offering a villa for ￡6.17m, with two parking spaces, a 1,000 sq metre garden and private pool. At the cheaper end, Housing Wealth Management Center has a two-bedroom apartment with sea views and balcony on sale for ￡823,696.
With few foreign visitors to Hainan, villas and apartments are designed with Chinese clients in mind. Chinese buyers prefer resorts to secluded huts. They offer everything from spas to conference rooms – crucial for businessmen who use their holiday homes to network. The sail-shaped skyscrapers on Sanya’s Phoenix Island are located on an artificial spit of land jutting into the sea and is being dubbed a “24-hour Las Vegas-style” leisure destination. Harvest Real Estate is offering a two-bedroom apartment there for ￡1.43m.
It does not seem that development on Hainan will slow down any time soon, but prices fell there earlier this year and history offers a cautionary lesson. In the 1990s, the government designated Hainan a special economic zone, leading to vast property investment on the island. Some made their fortunes but the bubble soon burst and the economy lay largely dormant for a decade. For now, however, finding a free umbrella on the beach remains the biggest challenge.
● Temperatures range from 18C to 29C. According to the People’s Daily, Hainan has 300 sunny days a year
● The world’s largest duty-free shop is due to open on the island next year. In the first half of 2013, sales from duty-free shops in Hainan hit Rmb5bn and attracted 2m people, says state-run news agency Xinhua
● Buyers who are not local to the island cannot secure a mortgage, so must buy in cash
What you can buy for . . .
￡500,000: A 250 sq metre flat in Haikou, the largest residential district
￡1m: A 200 sq metre flat on the Sanya waterfront
￡5m: A newly built, 600-800 sq metre, high-end villa in Sanya
“我们深知中国人热衷购物，爱去伦敦与巴黎逛，”伦敦著名室内设计公司Candy & Candy CEO尼克•凯迪(Nick Candy)说，Candy & Candy公司最近就全球高端休闲地产市场合写了一份研究报告。“中国富豪如今不断在伦敦购房，无论是作为投资、还是为自家孩子留学之需。但他们购房并不仅仅只是把它当作休闲性住房使用。”
“在三亚购房有两大目的，”三亚红峡谷高尔夫度假村(Sun Valley Golf Resort)总经理雷蒙德( Raymond Hau)说，该度假村计划兴建高档别墅。“第一个目的是增值之需；第二大目的是为退休在家的父母亲购买，他们难以忍受北方的严寒气候。每年11月份，老人们来海南过冬，于次年4年离开海南返乡。”
但眼下，捷足先登海南岛的是那些富豪。在海南拥有房产已成为身份的标志。在时尚店铺、高档餐厅以及五星级度假村（如三亚附近亚龙湾的希尔顿酒店）旁，新建船坞如雨后春笋般涌现。三亚鸿洲国际游艇俱乐部(Visun Royal Yacht Club)是中国规模最大的游艇俱乐部之一，其会员除了年费外，还需一次性支付1.8万英镑的费用。三亚德佑地产(Sanya Deyou Real Estate)公开发售每套售价617万英镑的别墅，它有两个车位、一座面积1000平米的花园以及一座私人泳池。房屋理财中心(Housing Wealth Management Center)则推出了带阳台的两卧廉价海景房，售价为82.3696万英镑。
来海南观光的外国游客屈指可数，所以别墅与公寓的设计专为本国客户量身打造。国内买家更喜欢度假村而非远离尘嚣的小屋。度假村从水疗中心到会议厅一应俱全，这对于商界人士十分重要，他们可以在度假屋连接因特网处理事务。三亚凤凰岛(Sanya’s Phoenix Island)上一幢幢帆船形的摩天大楼，就建在伸入大海的人工岛上，被誉为“全天候拉斯维加斯风情”的休闲胜地。Harvest Real Estate地产公司则向市场推出每套售价143万英镑的二卧住房。
●海南气温介于18℃与29℃间，据《中国日报》(the People’s Daily)报导，海南年均日照天数超过300天；