‘China’s Cape Canaveral’ is booming, fueled by lunar mission and space program

VCG/Getty Images

A Long March-5 Y7 carrier rocket carrying an experimental communications technology satellite lifts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on February 23, 2024 in Wenchang, China’s Hainan Province. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)


Hainan, a Chinese island that is geographically closer to Hanoi than Beijing, is known as the Hawaii of China due to its sandy beaches and mild climate.

But there’s another reason why tourists from all over China are flocking to Hainan these days: space.

The city of Wenchang is home to a rocket launch center and a tourism industry that meets a growing interest in space-related tourism.

China has made no secret of its desire to develop tourism here, taking inspiration from Florida’s Cape Canaveral, the launch pad for many famous NASA space missions.

CNN visited Wenchang, on the northeast coast of Hainan, to experience first-hand the excitement ahead of the May 3 launch of the Chang’e-6 probe, which aims to explore the far side of the Moon on its 53-day mission. .

The interior of the Hilton Wenchang looks more like a space center than a typical tropical resort. From celestial scenes in the hallways to a rocket at the breakfast buffet, the sprawling property is inspired by the nearby Wenchang Launch Center.

Justin Robertson/CNN

A space-themed afternoon tea served at the Hilton Wenchang.

In the hotel’s gift shop, visitors can find space-inspired toys, stuffed animals and children’s models. Before the lunar mission in May, the hotel offered a special aerospace-inspired afternoon tea. For about $30, guests were served a platter with small planet-style cakes, chocolate airplanes and astronauts, and a mousse-filled rocket, adorned with blue and pink sugar crystals representing the heavens.

The space theme continues around Wenchang.

Rocket designs hang from lamp posts and there are several displays of Chinese spaceships, perfect for a selfie or family portrait. Bottled water sold in stores comes in rocket-shaped containers.

The growth of China’s space program has generated increased interest in all things aeronautics. Hotel representatives told CNN that room rates at the Hilton Wenchang can be seven times higher when there is a launch. Visitors can watch the takeoff from the hotel’s beach.

China’s state media reports that 1.5 million people have visited Wenchang in the past two years, while the number of hotels has risen from five to more than 50.

Unsurprisingly, the space program has instilled a sense of national pride in China.

This is certainly the case for photographer Yan Zehua, who has a stand in Wenchang where he sells his work on postcards.

“Even though this is maybe the 24th time I’ve seen the rocket launch, I’m still excited about this,” he told CNN.

Liu Guoxing/VCG/Getty Images

Spectators gathered on a beach in Wenchang to watch the takeoff of the Long March-8 Y3 aircraft carrier in March 2024. (Photo by Liu Guoxing/VCG via Getty Images)

Parents also brought their children to the big moment. Several told CNN they hoped seeing a launch up close would spark children’s interest in science and technology.

“This is the first time we have excavated lunar soil from (the far side of) the Moon,” said one mother. “So we’re happy to see (how it’s done). And I brought my daughter to watch this together.”

Space-inspired attractions are just one of the ways China is diversifying its tourism offering in Hainan beyond the beach.

A Hello Kitty-themed resort and park is under construction with a tentative opening date of 2025.

In addition, it is easier for tourists from all over the world to visit Hainan than other regions in China. The island does not require a visa for residents of more than 50 countries, including the United States, Canada, France, New Zealand, Malaysia and Japan.