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Footprints in the sand and money in your wallet

The offerings for those looking for a laid-back holiday are proving to be irresistible.

A duty-free shopping policy text message popped up the minute I switched on my mobile phone straight after I landed at Sanya Phoenix International Airport in Hainan province.

A few minutes later, after learning I would be exempted from tax here without leaving the country, I was pondering whether to fork out a few thousand yuan for sunglasses and cosmetics at the Sanya International Duty-Free Shopping Complex.

I rang my girlfriend and asked her if the items I had my eyes on were as cheap as they seemed to be. Her answer was an emphatic yes, so I pulled out my credit card and swiped it.

The southern island province raised the duty-free spending limit for non-locals to 16,000 yuan ($2,470) a year on Feb 1. Previously such purchases were limited to two a year of 8,000 yuan each.

The move has given potential tourist one more reason to visit the island, in addition to its sunny weather, attractive beaches and laid-back pace of life.

Duty-free sales hit 340 million yuan during the week-long Spring Festival holiday, customs sources say. The range of products has also expanded to 37 from just a few earlier.

"Some cosmetics are even cheaper than in Hong Kong," says Wang Keqiang, deputy director-general of the Hainan provincial commerce department.

In Hainan, watch brands such as Tissot and Longines have long enjoyed the best sales of any place on the planet, Wang says.

The State Council also recently adopted a measure allowing non-locals who leave the island by train to enjoy the rebate, says Wang; it was previously limited to those leaving by air.

As a result, Wang says, he expects tourist spending this year to rise 30 percent, to between 6 billion yuan and 7 billion yuan.

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