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Spring Festival is a happy time for Chinese getting together and enjoying family tours. Nevertheless, for millions of Chinese tourists who chose to spend the weeklong holiday in Hainan, an island province in South China, the feeling of being stranded there for a long time was not so happy.
According to its provincial tourism authority, Hainan, a popular destination for tourists during wintertime, lured 5.67 million visitors and received revenue of 13.7 billion yuan (US$2.18 billion) during the 2018 Spring Festival.
Hainan Province is linked with adjacent Guangdong Province by the Qiongzhou Strait, which is 80 kilometers in length and 30 kilometers in width. At present, air flight and ferry are the only two ways to travel between the island and other parts of China. The outflow of travelers heading back home after spending their holidays in Hainan climaxed on Feb. 23 this year as the Spring Festival came to an end. However, ferry service across the strait was intermittently suspended by heavy fog, leaving tens of thousands of cars and holiday-goers stranded and putting great pressure on the local government and ferry ports in its capital city of Haikou.
Such a situation also drastically drove up air ticket prices. Air tickets from Haikou and Sanya within the province to big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai were all sold out, with only some limited first-class seats remaining, most of which were priced at more than 10,000 yuan per ticket. Such a long time spent stranded and queuing grew into restlessness. It was fortunate that with food, water, medicine and other help provided by Hainan government and local volunteers, the anxiety and irritable moods of some passengers was finally eased.
Due to its unique geographic position, tropical climate, clean air and preferential policies given by the Central Government, Hainan is on its way to becoming a popular international tourist destination. Frankly speaking, tourism is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it benefits the local economy a lot. On the other hand, it can destroy ecological balance in the province. Many local people have complained that with the influx of tourists and migrants from all over the country, Hainan’s natural environment has seriously deteriorated compared with its condition 10 years ago.
The marooning of passengers at the beginning of this year has further taught Hainan a lesson: that the status of its infrastructure construction and management is not in line with the rapid development of tourism in the province. Under these circumstances, government organs are urged to take short-term and long-term measures to ease traffic pressure in the province.
For the time being, airports in Haikou and Sanya, two of the most important cities in the province, can be enlarged and upgraded to accommodate more flights. Instead of narrow-body planes, domestic airline companies can use more wide-body aircraft in the future to enhance passenger-carrying capacity. Moreover, the distance between Haikou and Zhanjiang in Guangdong Province is only 177 kilometers. Helicopters and even hydroplanes can be considered for shuttling between the two cities during peak times and holiday seasons.
From a longer-term perspective, a cross-strait bridge or a tunnel under the sea could be built at the Qiongzhou Strait to connect Hainan with Guangdong to enhance their infrastructure planning integration. But such a gigantic project needs joint efforts from both of the provinces and even the coordination of the Central Government. Hainan was originally a prefecture in Guangdong Province. In 1988, it became a separate province and special economic zone. Besides governmental coordination, the project also faces other safety challenges. The Qiongzhou Strait lies in an active earthquake belt and is in the path of typhoons every year. Much more than that, the area is very near to the South China Sea, an inflammatory place between China and some neighboring countries.
(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)