Sounding out Sanya sensations and hitting the high notes in Haikou

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All is peaceful in the airside departures zone at Haikou Meilan International International Airport Terminal 2 with just four flights due out of here over the next six hours.

One of them being Sichuan Airlines 3U3711 to Bangkok, my next leg on a week-long journey that will eventually have taken me from Hong Kong to Sanya to Haikou, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and back into Hong Kong.

The bright and compact CDF duty free shops are ticking over but the whole terminal feels very much like the calm after the storm.

Next stop Bangkok during a three countries in one day trip

I can tell you this airport was anything but calm a few days ago as the peak Chinese New Year (CNY) holiday festival drew to a close and hordes of Mainlanders headed home after their stays in this island paradise. Hainan attracted 9.5 million tourists and total tourism revenue of CNY15.127 billion (US$2.1 billion) during the eight-day Spring Festival.

Offshore duty free shopping accounted for CNY2.564 billion (US$359 million) of that, generated by some 2 million transactions. 

I’ve been in Hainan for five days visiting both Sanya and Haikou, taking in some of the retail experiences and meeting our growing team on the island.

I flew into Sanya Phoenix International Airport on Friday, getting to my chosen hotel The Taikang Sanya in Haitang Bay late on Friday evening. It’s a lovely, understated property that offers a delightful serenity, resplendent with water features, lush greenery (including a Xanadu-like garden) and an expansive open architectural style.

The property has been open for two years and General Manager Janet Si (pictured below) and her team led by Bob Wang are doing a terrific job in creating an oasis of calm, and a nice warm inviting atmosphere reinforced by some of the friendliest hotel staff on the island. It will certainly be my go-to choice in Sanya from now on.

Haitang Bay, of course, also spells duty free. As in the epicentre of travel retail industry attention over recent years, the acclaimed cdf Sanya International Duty Free Shopping Complex. Since my last visit in June 2023, there has been a critical and much talked about addition to the offer, the rather utilitarian-sounding Block C. And a fantastic new duty and tax paid offer. More of that later.

Let me assure you there is nothing utilitarian whatsoever about Block C, just as there was never anything approaching that description about the existing Block A and B.

Block C is anchored by a dazzling array of perfume & cosmetics brands in the appropriately named Global Beauty Plaza. Saturday was the (dragon) tail end of CNY but the place was nonetheless heaving with shoppers.

The Estée Lauder Companies may be getting plenty of grief within the American investment and legal communities at present due to its well-documented inventory challenges that resulted from Hainan’s May 2023 crackdown on daigou trading.

But as the pictures below confirm, the American beauty powerhouse’s brands remain in big demand and I suspect that CNY 2024 has contributed very significantly to honouring CEO Fabrizio Freda’s pledge to return to ‘normalised’ stock levels in the very near future.

Certainly the scenes I witnessed would offer him and the travel retail sector globally considerable encouragement in that regard.

Crowds swarm into the main Estée Lauder boutique (above) and a pop-up position (below) in the Global Beauty Plaza

It’s not just Estée Lauder doing well in Block C. Lancôme was going gangbusters during my visit.

My old friend Mr Bones at Kiehl’s has put on a little weight

After Block C it was time to cross the (Lancôme-adorned) bridge to another recently opened development, the Sanya Yunjie Island duty paid zone project opened by Swire Properties and China Tourism Group in late 2023.

Since the completion of its renovation and upgrade at the end of September, the zone has welcomed a flurry of luxury brands to be followed by the phased introduction of more than 90 renowned international and domestic labels.

This is where Louis Vuitton finally opted to set up shop in Hainan travel retail. And, as you can see, when your brand carries the two most famous initials in the luxury business you don’t need to sell duty or tax free to lure Chinese travelling consumers in big numbers,

The long queue outside the store tells its own story of a great brand in a unique setting, one certain to evolve rapidly into one of Louis Vuitton’s premier doors in China.

The next morning I took the slow (scenic route) train north to Haikou. In the evening I dined with Lara Netherlands, our brand new Hainan recruit on the cusp of her first day with the company.

I could and probably should dedicate a whole Blog to Lara. A South African (written into her conditions of employment is an agreement NEVER to discuss the 2023 Rugby World Cup Final), she arrived here as a teacher in October 2018, speaking not a single word of Chinese.

On track at The Moodie Davitt Report: Heading north to Haikou
A Kiwi and a South African outside our office in the Windows to Global Trade (WGT) building in Haikou: No discussions on rugby allowed

Within a year, and without an hour of formal study, she was pretty much fluent. Before much longer she had been offered a role as a TV presenter and reporter with Hainan International Media Center, part of The Moodie Davitt Report’s content partner in the province, Hinews.

A quick selfie with the Hainan team, from left Zhang Yimei, Lara Netherlands and Dachang Wang

I’ve got to know Lara well over recent times, admiring her engaging personality, work ethic and impeccable professionalism. So I couldn’t be more delighted than when she agreed to join our Haikou team as Asia Pacific Content Strategist.

Lara will provide written and film coverage from Hainan specifically, China generally and, over time, from across Asia Pacific.

She joins our dynamic Chief China Representative Zhang Yimei (formerly Deputy General Manager at Hainan Tourism Investment Duty Free in Sanya) and the supremely hard-working China Travel Retail Express Editor Dachang Wang in our Haikou offices that Bluebell kindly shares with us in the WGT (Windows to Global Trade) building in the CBD.

Lara shown reporting on the all-important Hainan Provincial ‘Two Sessions’ in January. Click here to view her report.

We’ve got such exciting plans to develop our bi-lingual coverage – our own equivalent of a Hainan hotpot. Already we’re publishing both daily (China Travel Retail Express, in Chinese) and weekly (Moodie Davitt Official Account, English and Chinese) but we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.

Do you have a launch, activation or store opening coming up in Hainan? Or elsewhere in China? Would you like the best coverage in the business – in words, photos and film? Published across all our English and Chinese business and social media channels? Let me, Lara and Yimei know. And watch this space.

Through her personal journey on Hainan, Lara has nurtured a fantastic circle of creative talents, some of whom I dined with on Sunday night. Dined, I might add, in superb style. Meet Chef Kim Wan, owner of the newly opened Family Man Café in central Haikou. He’s a good friend of Lara’s, a culinary maestro and the warmest, most jovial host you could ever imagine.

Dining at Family Man Café is like being invited into Chef Kim’s (Wan is his family name) home kitchen. Everything is prepped and cooked within sight of the diners and the circa 40-seater restaurant (including outside covers) is just the right size for the intimacy he strives so splendidly to convey.

Looking for somewhere to take your clients or team during the Hainan Expo in April? Get down to Family Man Café and tell Chef Kim I sent you.

Lara, my wife Yulim and I were joined by videographer and film editor Alexander Roux (another South African, who, alas, didn’t have a clause in our dinner party contract NOT to mention the World Cup final) and his partner Chen Ming (‘Mao’), an expert in all the production details associated with top-class filmmaking. Extraordinary talents both who, through The Moodie Davitt Report, I suspect you will be hearing a lot more of.

Completing our dining party was David Janke, a supremely talented multi-linguist and translator from the UK, who has lived in Hainan for nearly 20 years and created his own thriving business providing fast, top-class work for government bodies, local and international companies, and – since early 2024 – The Moodie Davitt Report.

(Left to right) Chen Ming, Alexander Roux, David Janke, Chef Kim Wan, Yulim Lee, me and Lara Netherlands

Over Chef Kim’s sumptuous cuisine – and several post-dinner rounds of his best Japanese whisky – and some fine Lara-sourced South African Flower Bay Pinotage we put the world to rights and plotted a whole potpourri of creative projects. As they take shape, I know where our unofficial headquarters will be.

I spent yesterday with Lara, Dachang and Yimei at Moodie Davitt Hainan HQ, catching up with some of the Bluebell team in the process. Bluebell is a fine company with a proud history in Asia Pacific, now doing an outstanding job on behalf of numerous brands across categories in the offshore duty free market.

After finalising our Moodie Davitt plans for the year, we headed for dinner at Putien in MixC, a vast, modern and impressive shopping mall, where – amid much excitement – Louis Vuitton is due to open in coming months.

It was a lovely evening, one in which we toasted our young but already successful Hainan start-up; our exciting plans for the year ahead; and, of course the story of the fantastic island province we find ourselves fortunate enough to be part of as well as chronicling. ✈