>PALM trees and sandy beaches in China?
With a tropical climate and unspoilt, palm-fringed beaches, Hainan has all the ingredients to become one of Asia's top tourist resorts.
"China's Hawaii", as Hainan has been dubbed, looks poised to fulfil that ambition as it recovers from an economic slump that has left it lagging behind other parts of China.
According to a Reuters report, there is now an intense focus to turn the tropical island in south-west China into a tourist destination to rival Thailand"s beach resorts.
Top resorts are opening in droves.
The island is planning to broaden a visa-exemption scheme, opening duty-free shops, improving infrastructure, building airports, expanding air links and promoting foreign language studies.
Last May, the Ritz-Carlton and the Banyan Tree opened resorts in Sanya, where the island's premier beach resort is located. The Mandarin Oriental follows later this year.
It marks a huge change for Hainan, which until recently, has been mainly known in China as a place for cheap
The Banyan Tree Sanya's general manager Peter Pedersen told Reuters: "Sanya is one of the real new tropical
destinations in Asia, and in China, it is the only tropical island."
Standing on the top of one of the resort's individual pool villas, which go for about 5,000 yuan ($992) a night, Mr
Perdersen added: "It's becoming more and more in demand for both the local market and the international tourist market. It makes a perfect spot."
If the island's azure coast doesn't immediately attract droves of international beachgoers, then the fast expanding pool of domestic tourists will almost certainly prop up the industry.
The potentially huge Chinese market is a major draw for the resorts, who hope to leverage on the millions of people who have benefited from the country's economic boom and are increasingly adopting Western lifestyles and aspirations.
Mr Pedersen said: "Some of the estimates I've seen suggest 450 million middle-class Chinese in 10 years from
now... I think Sanya has a huge potential."
While most tourists to Hainan are mainland Chinese - 18 million last year against just 750,000 overseas visitors -
the government is working hard to attract affluent foreigners, who it hopes will boost the island's reputation and coffers.
The Reuters report quoted a provincial tourism bureau official who said the goal is to "within five years, attract 20 famous international hotel management groups, and make the number of five-star, international standard resorts rise to 60 or more".
Mr Pedersen is fiercely optimistic of the island's potential. "I think what you see in Sanya is only the tip of the iceberg. The island\ of Hainan is still very big.
"You have beaches more or less all the way up to the capital Haikou. The island is 350km in diameter... The sky's the limit here."
This article was first published in The New Paper on July 4, 2008.