Thursday, 30 June 2011

Last chance to visit the unspoiled Guangxi coast

For a couple of months now, the authorities in China’s coastal provinces have been announcing that they are, in effect, going to sell off nearly 200 uninhabited islands to the highest bidder.
"Ooh, I like what they've done with the garden. Can we afford the mortgage?"
The Territorial Water Islands Management Bureau in Guangxi, which lies squished between Canton (the bit foreign business travellers mistake for the rest of China) and the tip of Vietnam, has just said that 16 of its 500-plus islands, islets, sandbanks and shoals are to be sold off for “tourism and leisure”. They range from little more than hunks of mangrove to much larger islands that could, if you wanted, take 25 football pitches (albeit rocky and on a slope). The coast is heavily indented with estuaries and minor archipelagos, and the islands are mostly within a few hundred metres, or at most two or three clicks from the shore.
Guangxi’s interested in hearing from foreign capital in particular, and want foreign investors to apply with their plans to develop the islands as resorts. Investors will need to show, it has been stressed, that they intend to develop the islands with due regard for Guangxi’s environmental regulations before a certificate of land use is issued. One suspects, of course, that the “due payment of the relevant land-use fee” also mentioned by the bureau will in practice be the deciding factor.
Guangxi, which is most famous in tourism terms for the stunning karst mountain scenery of Yangshuo and Guilin, has in recent years been promoting growth in the number of scenic areas and in tourism infrastructure elsewhere in the province. They’re hoping to see a big rise in areas like leisure resorts and food tourism - Guangxi’s coast is after all within the tropics, with good seafood and tropical fruit a-plenty.
IMHO, though, their hope to become a destination to rival nearby Thailand and ’Nam for overseas visitors will stand or fall (okay, fall) on the quality of the overall experience. Western tourists, and those from Australia and NZ, can very cheaply and easily get to Phuket, Chiang Mai or the Vietnamese coast, and the general hassle of transferring from Hong Kong to Guangxi and then through vast expanses of rapidly modernizing countryside to what will, let’s face it, be a half-arsed resort full of Chinese middle-management simply won’t be able to compete. Domestic tourists, who are more canny and on home soil, will flock to places like this on cheap packages, but backpackers will find themselves being ripped off by a system which encourages tourism to see visitors as one-offs who need to be fleeced at every opportunity. The luxury market, meanwhile, won’t even touch Guangxi when it has so much else to choose from.

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