At 11 o’clock on Tuesday morning, four giant diggers moved a short distance from the shore of downtown Zhuhai and began to pump sand from the seabed. The aim is to create a new beach 1.5 km long and 90 meters wide that will be open to tourists on New Year’s Day next year.
It is part of a large investment by the city to attract more tourists, especially from Hong Kong, and compete better with Macau, Shenzhen and other cities in Guangdong that lure thousands of them every weekend and for short-stay holidays.
Hong Kong people are the most important group of non-mainland visitors. According to official figures, Zhuhai last year attracted 4.6 million such tourists, an increase of 15.5 percent over 2013. Of these, foreigners were 682,400, up 10.3 percent, and those from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan 3.9 million, up 20.8 percent.
All these visitors spent US$932 million, an increase of 11.2 percent over the previous year. The occupancy rate of the city’s hotels was 61.2 percent, an increase of 4.7 percentage points.
These numbers are a fraction of the numbers that go to Shenzhen and Macau. That is because the city does not have enough to attract people.
Its biggest draw is the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, the world’s largest water theme park that opened in March 2014 at the southern tip of Hengqin, the island next to Macau. It includes one of the world’s large aquariums, with rare whale sharks, beluga whales, polar bears and other exotic animals. It is several times bigger than Disneyland or Ocean Park; it puts on circus performances every night.
Another big item is the recreation of the Yuan Ming Yuan royal palace in Beijing that was burnt down by Anglo-French forces in 1860. The original remains in ruins, as living evidence of the treachery of foreigners, so Zhuhai decided to build a model.
One of the city’s greatest resources is its shoreline. It has 690 km, one of the longest in China, and 146 islands. It is working hard to develop these as holiday destinations for people and yachts but this is at an early stage. Ironically, there are few beaches.
The new man-made beach, at Xianglu Bay, aims to address this problem. In charge of the project is Gree Real Estate, a subsidiary of Gree Electronics, the city’s biggest company and world’s largest producer of air conditioners. In recent years, it has expanded rapidly into the property sector, where profits are substantially higher than for electrical appliances.
The company said that it would transform the area into a bay that is “famous around the world, a shoreline of art and romance, a large recreation area for residents and tourists”.
Down the shoreline are three major projects nearing completion that also aim to attract visitors from Hong Kong. One is an Opera House, involving an investment of 1.718 billion yuan on 50,000 square metres of reclaimed land.
The design is of two shells – one large one at 90 meters high and one small, at 60 meters high. It will have a concert hall with 1,550 seats, plus a lobby, an auditorium and a stage and a small theater with 500 seats, for smaller events, fashion shows, art promotions and corporate meetings.
Opposite the opera hall, overlooking the Pearl River, are the Zhuhai Museum and the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall. The museum will have a built-up area of 20,000 square meters. Visitors to the roof of both will have a commanding view of the river on the one side and a spacious park on the other.
The question is whether these new attractions will bring Hong Kong people.
“There are plenty of nice places to swim in Hong Kong,” said Leung Kwok-min, a taxi driver. “I do not need to go to Zhuhai to swim.”
“For people like me, Shenzhen is more appealing. You can get there in 30 minutes and crossing the border is very convenient. If you have a massage, they give you a free lunch. There are many things to eat and buy. Rich women go there to buy fake Rolexes – when they wear them, who dares to say it is fake?” he said. “Everything Zhuhai has, Shenzhen has more of them, including women.”
Yip Siu-hing, a salesman, said that he found little reason to go to Zhuhai.
“Young people in Hong Kong like to eat, drink and play. There is not much to do in Zhuhai. The only reason to go is to save money on a trip to Macau. Staying in a hotel there is cheaper than one in Macau. But you spend little in Zhuhai and use most of your money in Macau. It is a longer journey than to Shenzhen and means going by sea. Shenzhen has everything we want.”
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