Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Aloha doesn’t live in Hainan

Hainan Island

Flower Lei in Hainan

Aloha Shirt made in Hainan
Aloha Shirt in Hainan
Aloha made in Hainan
Hawaii Style Resort in Hainan
Hainan Skyline
Hula Dancers in Hainan
It is usually the case that when an high-end product is replicated, it is because of price value.  Those who cannot afford an “original” would buy a “knock-off.”  China is a haven for mass production of both, for very obvious reasons.  But, on a recent trip to China has got be bewildered and puzzled, as I witnessed a destination piggybacking on another destination’s marketing schemes so blatantly obvious that is almost embarrassing to see.   The island of Hainan is shamelessly touting itself as “China’s Hawaii.”

<strong>Aloha shirts</strong>
The first hint of Hainan ripping off Hawaii’s image is when I walked into the venue for Sanya Tourism reception and Dinner during the recently-held 2014 Global Summit by the World Travel & Tourism Council.  As I made my way towards the venue, an open space area at the Double Tree Resort, I felt very much like walking into a Hawaii-themed event.  Majority of the attendees were decked up in colorful shirts that had mostly floral prints on them.  I was confused.  That confusion ultimately made me feel awkward, which made it impossible for me to “talk” with anyone.  I felt immersed in a bad Twilight Zone episode that ultimately led me to walk out of the dinner function.  It just did not feel right to be there.

Another obvious rip by Hainan of Hawaii is the marketing logo.  One look at Hainan logo and I instantaneously thought of Hawaii’s logo.  The colors and the fonts are almost identical.  Whoever designed Hainan’s logo should be fired immediately because it’s degrading for a destination to do such a thing.  It has enough going for itself that it need not stoop to that level.  Hainan, as I will point out later on, has a unique identity that is far from Hawaii and can stand as a world class destination on its own merit.  

The rip on Hawaii’s logo by Hainan struck me as something silly and inconceivable. For what its worth it is a clear indication of lack of creativity, let alone authenticity.  Whoever masterminded the design did some minor tweaks, but the similarity is palpable.  Take both logos and edit them using a black and white filter and it is hard to tell the two apart.  See  what I’m talking about:  

The word “aloha” is unique to Hawaii, so Hainan obviously cannot use it.  But, a trip to Yanoda Cultural Tourism Zone revealed that Hainan has a version - “yanoda.”  Yanoda Cultural Tourism Zone is a rainforest park that has manmade tourism features such as zip-lining, designated picture-taking areas with accompanying sounds effects, shops, etc.  Everywhere we were greeted by park employees with a smile and the word “yagona” to which visitors were instructed in the electronic mobile guide to respond to with by also saying “yagona.”  That same electronic guide first few sentences as soon as I turned it on said something to the effect of “When you visit Hawaii, you will find often that people are saying aloha, here we say yanoda.” I was floored.

In Hawaii, when people say “aloha,” it normally comes with a hand gesture called hang loose sign.  Lo and behold, Hainan’s “yanoda” does come with one, too.  It is identical to what most people refer to as the peace sign.  

In every hotel I checked into post-WTTC summit, I was greeted with some kind of a necklace.  I’m using the term loosely because in Hawaii, it is widely known that visitors are greeted with a floral necklace known as “leis.”  In Hainan, I found that they did the same thing, but each property took the liberty of creating a “necklace” of their own.  Each property was different.  The most ineffective of all during my visit was Narada Hot-spring Resort’s three-betel nut necklace.  Whoever thought that greeting guests with a necklace made of three betel nuts tied by a string should really consider one thing:  comfort.  Nobody in their right mind wants three miniature coconuts hanging on their neck.  They’re heavy and odd-looking.

Hainan should cease and desist all of its references to Hawaii immediately because it is causing them more harm than good.  Why would an island that will soon have a 7-star hotel would want to degrade itself when it need not to?  There’s ample reasons why Hainan should stand proud of itself as a tourism destination.  While it may be the case that they truly are trying to be “China’s Hawaii” that is catering mostly to domestic tourists and expats, it has so much to offer that it is ready to receive the world.  Hainan’s true identity, as I see it, will be the topic of part two of this series.  Hint: it is not the sandy beaches, not the tropical rain forests and most certainly not anything related to shirts, logos and hand gestures.

by Nelson Alcantara, eTN editor-in-chief

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