The Dongzhaigang Mangrove Forest Reserve, in Haikou, Hainan province, isone of the province's scenic highlights and the country's largest mongroveforest reserve. Long Quan / For China Daily
Along with its beach appeal, Hainan has another side to its charm that it wants to show the world.
The tropical island province of Hainan aims to be a top international tourism destination by 2020. One of the ways it intends to do this is by popularizing the natural charms of the small towns and villages scattered across the island.
During the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911), many Chinese ventured into Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia to make a living. When they returned from their travels in the South China Sea area, they sought to recreate elements of the lifestyles and culture they had encountered. Today, the small towns in South China's Hainan province still bear traces of their sojourns.
In Zhongyuan in Qionghai city, residents live in qilou, or arcade houses, enjoying their afternoons drinking coffee, eating snacks and chatting with friends. After a comprehensive upgrade in 2013, the town, full of South China Sea elements, has become a popular attraction for visitors from across the country.
Wu Jieguang, who runs a Traditional Chinese Medicine clinic in Zhongyuan town, has experienced the changes firsthand.
"Before, the majority of my clients were local residents. Now I have clients from Northeast China, who are here on vacation," said Wu.
According to the overall plan for the province's village-themed tourism industry from 2014 to 2020, Hainan will develop its villages as tourism destinations and produce souvenirs and related products related to the villages' unique characteristics.
Cycling through Sanya's rural areas is a popular way to enjoy the leisuredestination. Chen Lihua / for China Daily
It is predicted that towns and villages in Hainan will receive 8 million visitors, and the indirect income they generate will be more than 2.5 billion yuan ($390 million) by 2016.
Wang Xiaokun, director of the Hainan village-themed tourism association, said Hainan should not just focus on its appeal as an island holiday destination when developing its tourism industry.
"Developing tourism in the villages and towns can help the residents make a living without leaving their homes and boost the quality of life in their hometowns at the same time," he said.
"This should be one of the most important focuses for the development of Hainan's tourism industry in the next decade," he added.
Bo'ao, another city in Hainan, is home to the permanent headquarters of the Bo'ao Forum for Asia. Since 2001, the small fishing village has slowly come alive and developed into a small city. The natural scenery of Meiya Park is the village's main attraction.
Another town that has benefited from its location is Tanmen.
In the last two years, the fishing port of Tanmen, located on the eastern part of the island, attracted 4,000 visitors a day on average, and more than 10,000 during the weekends, with its fresh seafood and seashell handicrafts.
Recently, the China National Tourism Administration and the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development released a list of 337 model tourist towns and villages. Zhongyuan, Bo'ao and Tanmen were included on the list; and two Hainan villages known for their ethnic culture were also selected.
Hainan province is home to many minority groups, with the Li and Miao people particularly prominent on the island. The Li were the earliest settlers of Hainan, with their first-recorded appearance on the island traced back to 3,000 years ago.
The distinctive Li and Miao villages have been described as untouched paradises by tourists.
Wang Yanyong, director of the Tourism Development and Planning Research Center of Beijing Jiaotong University, said beautiful villages are the mainstay of a beautiful China.
"The beauty of small towns and villages is that they remind many people of where they grew up," said Wang. "Visiting these places allows city residents to revisit their childhoods."
"This national style can have global appeal, if these towns and villages focus on their own unique characters," added Wang.
By Su Zhou and Huang Yiming ( China Daily )