Cycling in Hainan A New Avenue For Tourism

By Zheng Yi

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Diaoluo Mountain is a densely forested mountain in the southeastern part of Hainan, a tropical island in southern China. The rainforests, waterfalls, streams and pools here constitute exquisite scenery, and the sloping trails are ideal routes for cycling. From Oct. 21-30, the 11th Tour of Hainan International Cycling Race was held, and Diaoluo Mountain was an important stop along the race’s route. With the fierce competition of the contestants, the mountain’s stunning scenery has been revealed to more people through media coverage of the race.

Increased coverage is exactly what the race’s organizers expected. According to the Tour of Hainan Organizing Committee, the race was broadcast live on television across 180 countries and regions, potentially reaching more than 340 million households across the world. As of mid-November, there had been over 300,000 hits on subjects related to the race on foreign social media. The committee hopes that it can explore the industrial value of the race to drive the vigorous development of the Chinese sports industry in this way.

Live Broadcasting

On Oct. 29, Kazakh Alexey Lutsenko, who is a climber (in cycling terms, this means a cyclist who is particularly fast ascending and descending peaks), became the first to cross the finish line at stage eight (Sanya-Qiongzhong), the second-to-last stage of the race. A reporter with Kazakhstan National Television immediately shared the good news with his fellow countrymen on TV.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to broadcast live the Tour of Hainan,” the reporter said. “Many fans say they will come here for a ride if there’s a chance.” Lutsenko went on to win the overall race.

The live broadcast of the Tour of Hainan is a fresh attempt to boost the international appeal of the race. It also sets an unprecedented example for domestic cycling races. The old way of promoting the race by word of mouth among cycling enthusiasts cannot be compared to promoting it via mass media. Since the Tour of Hainan International Cycling Race was first held, the number of racing teams from abroad has gradually increased, and the race organization and services are increasingly approaching international standards.

Live broadcasting bike races requires a sophisticated filming operation capable of passing over steep mountains, which makes matters difficult for production crews. However, the organizing committee is willing to endure such hardships because it is aiming to boost the event’s popularity globally.

“Even the most beautiful advertising videos cannot match a few hours of aerial filming in Hainan,” said Chen Xiaohua, general manager of Tour of Hainan International Cycling Race Company. “The committee’s cooperation with the Amaury Sport Organisation [the event organizer, which also organizes the Tour de France] will last three years. Now, the Tour of Hainan is broadcast on Eurosport 2 and other international TV channels. That is undoubtedly a golden opportunity for a local bike race to open up the global market.”

Yang Yiguang, general director of the race and deputy director of the Department of Culture, Radio, Television, Publication and Sports of Hainan Province, sees great potential in the internationalization of the Tour of Hainan.

“Currently, many enterprises are eager to buy foreign sports intellectual property. What they lack is an influential race of their own,” Yang said. “We will not upgrade blindly. Instead, we will stick to this road and improve the race continuously with great attention to detail. Hopefully, in the next few years, we can apply for a Union Cycliste Internationale [UCI, cycling’s global governing body] tour through our efforts.”

An Impetus for Tourism

In addition to the official event, the Tour of Hainan International Cycling Race is also trying to expand the market for cycling in Hainan. The Mofang 200-kilometer cycling is an event intended for cycling enthusiasts across China. This year, the event joined hands with the Tour of Hainan for the first time and was held in Chengmai, Hainan. During the registration period, the number of cyclists applying to participate in the event reached 5,000, and 90 percent of applicants were from outside Hainan.

The Tour de France has enhanced Europe’s low-carbon tourism. These days, the Tour of Hainan has first put forward the concept of “Global Tourism; New Discovery”. Statistics show that, currently, China’s sports tourism market is worth around 170 billion yuan (US$2.5 billion), accounting for just 5 percent of the total tourism market. However, in developed countries, that percentage can reach up to 25 percent, based on which China’s sports tourism market can grow to 1 trillion yuan (US$146 billion). To exploit this new market, the Tour of Hainan has changed its development strategy, taking on opportunities to explore different areas.

The organizer’s forward-looking plans can be seen from the cycling track of the 2016 Tour of Hainan. It runs through 18 cities and counties home to the province’s best tourism resources, and some lesser-known scenic spots have been utilized as well. This owes to the big moves Hainan has made in building green paths for cycling in recent years. These paths include the Bamen Bay Greenway on the coast of Wenchang, the greenways running through the hills and fields of Ding’an and Tunchang, and the Xinglong Greenway in Wanning, where Southeast Asian features are clearly visible. According to official statistics, Hainan receives 300,000 cycling tourists annually.

As a strong driving force behind the development of tourism, the Tour of Hainan is seen as a gold mine for tourist growth. In Chengmai, five refreshment stations have been established to provide food, accommodation, supplies and maintenance services for cyclists. Some stations can earn almost 1 million yuan (US$150,000) per year. Chen believes the bikers from outside Hainan have a huge demand for “one-stop service”, which represents an opportunity.

By complementing each other, sports and tourism have motivated the local government to expand cycling options and promote healthy development of the race. According to Lin Dong, secretary of the Party Committee of Changjiang Li Autonomous County in Hainan, local people rarely saw races before a few years ago. Now, however, cycling has become the most famous sport here, and a bike-specific road was built in 2015. The six host cities of the race have all provided some financial support, boosting the comprehensive value of the event.

Exploiting the ‘Gold Mine’

Nowadays, no sport can match the popularity of cycling in China, apart from perhaps marathons. According to Niu Hongtao, deputy secretary of the Chinese Cycling Association, 4,000 to 5,000 mass cycling races are held nationwide every year, which means there are 10 to 20 events per day. China hosts the most UCI events in Asia. Both cyclists with professional aspirations and amateurs are growing in number. Now, the number of active cycling enthusiasts in Hainan has exceeded 100,000. The Tianya Cycling Club in Haikou, the largest cycling club in Hainan Province, hosts nearly 70 races and events per year.

Through 10 years of careful operation, the Tour of Hainan’s brand value has continuously increased. But the race alone is not the organizer’s only goal.

“Currently, China’s sports consumption market covers 300 million people, which means one out of four or five people in the country is a sports fan,” Yang said. “Enormous potential lies in the biking, equipment, tourism and other consumption markets driven by the Tour of Hainan. If the potential can be stimulated, it will make the local economic transformation more dynamic.”

Since this year’s Tour of Hainan has come to an end, turning the heat of the race into sustained development of the industry has become a challenge faced by all cycling event organizers and respective local governments.

“The Tour of Hainan plans to build a sports industry chain with a complete set of products and services, and integrate it into tourism, culture, finance and other industries,” Chen said. “It aims at a carnival for everyone based on the prominence of its brand. It is estimated that the comprehensive income of the Tour of Hainan will exceed 4.2 billion yuan [US$612 million] by 2025.”

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