The competition has already become a major Chinese sailing event, and is now ready to break out onto the world stage
SANYA, China - The 9th Country Garden Cup Round Hainan Regatta came to a conclusion on April 1, 2018. The event has become a premier sailing race in China following several stages of expansion since its launch in 2010. The event is expected to witness further expansion and enhancement.
A journalist who has reported on the Round Hainan Regatta for nine consecutive years said, "Each edition of the event has been memorable. I clearly remember when the event was first launched in March 2010, a year when the Hainan International Tourism Island project was included in China's strategic development plan. Fourteen sailing teams participated in the first Round Hainan Regatta, yet not one of them was owned by or originated from Hainan. With no local teams in the first edition, at the time, many felt that the future of the event was uncertain."
Yet, the initial and follow up regattas both went off smoothly and generated excitement well beyond the region, giving the event the impetus to continue growing. While the event was limited to the eastern and western sides of the island, by the third edition, the competition included a full "round the island" race. Yet, despite the lack of experience among the organizers during the first few years, thanks to their collective efforts, the annual event has gone on to make history among Chinese regattas, establishing itself as China's premier offshore sailing event.
Winners are those who always manage to take advantage of an opportunity and develop a plan before taking any action. "No project can be expected to be fully successful right out of the gate. One needs to be consistent and determined in the effort once there is a clear direction and a right path," commented a reporter from the sports news section of the People's Daily. "Hainan has established a strong presence in terms of hosting sports events, including sailing, most notably the Round Hainan Regatta, as well as cycling and golf, all of which highlight the island's uniqueness and advantages, despite not being among the important contributors to the Chinese sports community."
The scope of the Round Hainan Regatta started to expand rapidly since it was launched, with new competitions and events added to each edition thanks to the organizers' efforts in quickly studying and understanding what had made such types of events successful. To cite an example, the event borrowed from the Volvo Ocean Race in terms of the use of uniformly designed sailing boats with the ability to lock the engine, the hosting of a marine lifestyle fair and onboard reporting. The organizers learned a lot from the Volvo Ocean Race, an event that has twice included a port of call in Sanya, which, in itself, went a long way in laying a sound foundation for the professionalization and international recognition of the regatta.
Over the past eight years, the regatta has continued to make achievements and has had a major impact on Hainan in many domains beyond sports, including the economy, culture and tourism. Now in its ninth year, a year that also celebrates the 30th anniversary of the elevation of Hainan Island to provincial status as well as the establishment of the Hainan Special Economic Zone, the sailing event is well-positioned for future expansion in addition to making further contributions to the province's economic growth.
The first and biggest achievement of the Round Hainan Regatta is the establishment of a professional and efficient operations team. Based on its quest to create a professional and international sailing event, the organizing committee hired several technology experts, including World Sailing Racing Rules Committee chairman Bernard Bonneau, as advisors to the 2013 edition. Following the addition of the experts to the team, the event entered the World Sailing's global competition list, raising the status of the event to the level of a key round island regatta among the World Sailing-certified global sailing series of events. Sanya was also the host city of the 2015 World Sailing annual meeting and the 2017 Youth Sailing World Championship. Of note, the success of these high-profile international sailing events was in part contributable to the efforts of the Round Hainan Regatta team.
The regatta has had a profound impact on the economy of Hainan. There was not one properly functioning yacht marina on the island when the event was first launched in 1988. During the event, the modern sailboats had to be bound to shabby-looking fishing boats at the docking points when passing through Wenchang, Qionghai, Lingshui and Sanya. Today, more than a dozen yacht marinas have been completed and put into use across the island, including Haikou Danna Marina Yacht Club, Sanya Serenity Marina, Sanya Phoenix Island International Cruise Terminal, Hongzhou Yacht Marina, Yalong Bay Marina and Clear Water Bay Marina in Lingshui as well as Shimei Bay International Marina Club in Wanning, providing over 10,000 berths. With the hosting of the Round Hainan Regatta, Hainan has continued improving its regatta service infrastructure, laying a sound foundation for the ongoing development of the sailing event.
Sailboat clubs and training organizations were established to capitalize on the growing popularity of the sport in Hainan. During the event, the Nanbianhai Team attracted much attention as it is the first local team consisting of Tankas, or boat people, an ethnic minority in Southern China, that participated in the competition. It is exciting to see the Tankas expressing their enthusiasm for the sailing sport, reflecting one of the ways that the Round Hainan Regatta is helping promote sports across the province.
Following the launch of the first edition, the regatta immediately served to spur the development of an end-to-end production and service chain for Hainan's sailboat and yacht industry. The industry has been an active contributor to the island's economic development during the nine years when the sector has been in existence. Two programs rolled out by the provincial government, the Master Plan of Yacht Marinas in Hainan Province and the Development Plan of Yacht Industry in Hainan province, focus on the sailboat and yacht industries as well as the wider sailing sports sector. The local sailboat market is growing rapidly as new market segments, including sailboat equipment, sailing clubs, sailing schools and sailboat tourism, emerge. A few years ago, the sailboat and yacht marinas in Hainan started drawing immense crowds during the winter months. The sea in the vicinity of Sanya started to become crowded, as the presence of now healthy sailboat and yacht industries served to vastly boost an interest in the two sports, both among locals and visitors.
Lin Guangqiang, director of the Department of Culture, Radio, Television, Publication, and Sports of Hainan Province, has been a witness to the regatta's development over the last nine years. He said, "Three or four year ago, the Round Hainan Regatta was only able to make ends meet, yet, since, it has gradually developed into a profitable event. The value that the competition adds to the island's tourism sector is highly recognized. However, it would not have been possible for the regatta to have achieved the accomplishments that it did had it depended solely on government handouts." In an environment where local competitions can not find a successful business model or turn a profit, the Round Hainan Regatta has been at the forefront of the development of the sailing and yacht industry chain and contributed over 140 million yuan (approx. US$22 million) to the economy of the island.
In addition to the recognition across the community, the Round Hainan Regatta has also demonstrated its brand value. The title sponsor of this year's competition, Country Garden, is a Fortune Global 500 company and is one of China's top three property developers. The developer has made a significant contribution to the transformation of Hainan into an international tourist destination. A key reason why the regatta's organizers chose Country Garden is summed up in the company's philosophy: involvement in projects that benefit both people and the larger society while meeting the prospective homeowner's expectation for a better quality of life that a new home can deliver. The regatta's existing sponsors and partners cover the real estate, clothing and fashion, as well as the machinery and tools sectors, among others. The wide range of industries reflected by the sponsoring organizations also underscores the value the market sees in the regatta. As sailboat racing has not yet become a household term in China, the potential size of the audience is limited, resulting in China not yet being in a position where the country can follow the model adopted by most Western countries for running this type of competition. Consequently, the Round Hainan Regatta has decided upon an innovative localized operation model aligned with international standards and that capitalizes on the joint efforts of the government, professional organizations and industry players with the aim of developing the brand with, as it was termed by the organizers, "the same level of care that a mother adopts when raising her own child".
A country is only as strong as its "next in line" youth generation. In addition to the promotion of the event as an exciting racing event, the Round Hainan Regatta is also being publicized as a venue in which an up and coming teenager can develop a career. A few years ago, the regatta introduced the Optimist (OP) sailboat category specially designed for teenagers. During the OP race segment, a young man named Chen Yunhan entered the competition while confined to a wheelchair. He said, "I meant to compete for the title, yet, unexpectedly, I hurt my leg. Nevertheless, I hope to complete the race. If I am lucky enough to be the one standing on the podium, I will be there in my wheelchair." The courage and passion of the young man is certainly the best example of the event's theme "Round Hainan Regatta, The Courage to Love".
When commenting on the future of the regatta, the Department of Culture, Radio, Television, Publication, and Sports director, Mr Lin, said he hopes the competition can expand to the Gulf of Tonkin, Hong Kong, Shenzhen and other events taking place across the South China Sea region over next few years. The long-term plan includes taking the competition to Cambodia, the Philippines and Vietnam as well as other countries across Asia with the aim of transforming the event into the top offshore competition in China and one of the leading offshore rally races in Asia.
Mr Lin's faith in the durability of the competition is based on China's rapid economic growth over last few years. He said, "The markets and the competitions that we could not imagine being a part of the local sports scene just a few short years ago are now an integral part of the landscape. Sailing is bound to soon become one of the region's most popular sports."
In addition to the competition, the development of the sailboat market in Hainan has also given impetus to a customized tourism industry. Mr Lin said that people traveled mainly for sightseeing and having a leisurely vacation; however, they are increasingly becoming interested in an in-depth experience tour. This is something that the sport of sailing can deliver. Sports as a centerpiece of a vacation has the ability to create an immersive engagement experience.
Mr Lin proudly pointed out the goals of the Round Hainan Regatta: "With the unique natural environment, accumulated experience in running a competition as well as the recognition and support of both the business community and the general public, we have every reason to believe that the Round Hainan Regatta will grow beyond China, by first expanding across Asia and eventually the whole world!"