HAIKOU  — Over the past ten years, great changes have taken place in China’s tropical island province of Hainan, which is now being developed into the country’s largest free trade port. The transformation has left a strong impression on the people living in Hainan, including the Italians who have settled down on the island.

Stefano Fedi from Florence set up his fashion consulting company in Haikou, the capital of Hainan in 2018, the year in which Hainan became a pilot free trade zone and began exploring free trade port construction.

Actually Stefano’s deep bond with Hainan dates back to many years ago. In 2006, while on a business trip in China, he took his family to Hainan for a holiday.

“We enjoyed that time very much, so we started to go back every couple of years,” he said, noting that his family had a very fond memory in Hainan.

“I’ve seen the transformation since 16 years ago,” he recalled, mentioning that at that time hotels at Yalong Bay were far and few between. But now the change is amazing as more and more hotels, resorts and vocation facilities have popped up at Haitang Bay.

He said Haikou also has made great improvements in the last five or six years in terms of infrastructure, new shopping centers, entertainment and restaurants. “We can see the growth of the city very well.”

For the construction of the free trade port, Stefano thinks it is a great opportunity for foreign companies.

He said Hong Kong has been instrumental in helping foreign companies approach the Chinese market, and today Hainan has started to play the same role thanks to the construction of the free trade port.

Nicola Zanella from Ravenna, Italy has been living in Hainan for about 12 years. Surfing since he was about 13, he has been practising the sport for more than 40 years, and now he is the head instructor of the Zhejiang national surfing team.

When he first came to Hainan in 2010 with the World Surf League for an international competition held in Riyue Bay in Wanning, a coastal city in east Hainan, he fell in love with this beautiful tropical island.

“I really like the surfing conditions here in Hainan. It has warm weather and the waves are really good,” he said. “I have found good job opportunities here, so I decided to stay.”

In the past 12 years, Nicola has witnessed the great changes of Hainan, especially the development of its surfing industry.

About 12 years ago, there were few surfers on the island, but now there are thousands, said Nicola, adding that it went from a small activity enjoyed by a very close group of friends to a commercial activity with hundreds of surf schools, national and regional teams and surfing clubs and competitions.

The Riyue Bay used to be a very small fishing community and now is the epicenter of surfing in China, he continued.

Talking about his hometown, Nicola said though it is also a tourist area, the infrastructure has not changed for years. But in Hainan, “if you don’t go somewhere for a few years, and then go back, you might not even be able to recognize it, because it has changed so much.”

In his eyes, the construction of free trade port will bring not only more tourists but also more entrepreneurs who want to set up businesses in Hainan. “For sure it will bring benefits to the economy of Hainan island and to the country,” he said.

Daniele Vacca, the owner and head chef of an Italian restaurant located by the seaside of Sanya Bay in Sanya, has fulfilled his dream on the island.

Once a chef of a five-star hotel, Daniele from Sardinia of Italy, had worked in many countries including Britain, Thailand and Qatar. He appreciated the chance to experience new cultures, new languages and new people.

When he came to Sanya from Doha in 2015, he fell in love with this tropical coastal city and never left, because here he found his wife Tessa, a Chinese woman.

In 2018, Daniele and Tessa decided to open a restaurant named Cucina, which means kitchen in Italian.

“It’s my dream, as a chef, to have my own restaurant,” said Daniele. “I love Sanya, and it’s a place full of opportunities.”

He believes Sanya is a top tourist destination in China, while Hainan is also a free trade port, meaning more opportunities for people coming to the island.

Having lived in Sanya for more than six years, Daniele has witnessed the development of the city with new buildings and parks springing up almost daily. “The environment is better, and the government has invested a lot not just in normal infrastructure, but also in services for citizens,” he said.

Daniele and his wife had planned to open a second Italian restaurant featuring Italian street food in another bay in Sanya. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the plan has been put on hold.

“As soon as we see a bit of opportunity, and the economy becomes more stable, we will open our restaurant,” said Daniele.

Originally published by Xinhua