They are pampered, well-fed, royally
entertained, and ferried around in luxury vehicles. Brightly coloured swarms of them can be seen at midday running harem
scarem on Sanya’s golden beaches. Contrary to popular belief, they are not afraid of water… Indeed,
many can be seen splashing about in the waves that lap gently on to the shores of Yalong Bay – their preferred habitat.
At night, it’s not unusual to see some of them swaying to the beat of an 80s Brit-pop anthem, while knocking back the
free-flow wines, beers, and spirits. They are known – in the hospitality trade at least – as “MICE”.
The industry’s somewhat discourteous
acronym (I, too, have been one of their millions, and I can tell you that the above description is a bit too close for comfort,
for me at least) stands for: Meetings, Incentives, Conferences/Conventions and Exhibitions/Events.
In the first half of 2009, 3.4 million tourists visited Sanya, 3.22 million of whom were mainland
Chinese (up 14.5 per cent year-on-year; while the economic downturn in most parts of the world led to a 40 per cent decline
in non-mainland tourists). And a large number
of those tourists were MICE – who contribute more profit to the island's tourism industry than the average visitor.
(Sorry for not presenting the numbers, but MICE are notoriously difficult to count – at least I managed to find
out that there are about 6,000 groups a year of them in Sanya, according to Du Liyin, the director of the Sanya Tourism
The nature of those groups is extremely
varied. Let’s look at the Sheraton
Sanya Resort, for example. It has hosted
the final of the Miss World Contest on three occasions. It has also played host to the 108 visiting monks from the Buddah societies of the Taiwan Strait, Hong Kong and Macau.
The Sheraton and the
other leading hotels of course love to attract high profile events, but it’s the MICE from their numerous corporate
clients that really bring home the cheese. But the nature of this source of business is changing rapidly. These days in Sanya, you are just as likely to stumble across an event or activity organised by
a Chinese company you’ve never heard of than one paid for by a world famous brand.
This evening I was walking past the Crowne Plaza in Yalong Bay, Sanya, when bright
lights and the sound of a male’s rich baritone voice caught my attention. A group of locals were
watching the performance, pressed up against the gold rope that marked the boundary of the corporate entertainment area.
Naturally curious (well, I was born in the Chinese year of the mouse
– aka “rat”), I just had to find out what was going on. Something in the order of 150
well-heeled guests were helping themselves to the seafood buffet, while the baritone crooned out a mournful song.
They had gone slightly over the top with the special effects, and the dry ice looked more like smoke that was enveloping
the performer. Undeterred, he crooned on. Behind him I could see the billboard announcing
the evening’s sponsor. It was non other than “Yang Quan Coal Industry (Group) Co., Ltd.”
Of course I had never heard of them. I asked
one of the bouncers standing by the gold rope who they are. “From Shanxi,” he told be begrudgingly.
“And what about the guests”, I asked. “Bosses and their customers,” was
his curt reply. Well fancy that... There was I thinking that the 100 top coal-winning
miners had been flown here on an all-expenses-paid jolly.
plight of miners in Shanxi and all over China is certainly no laughing matter. In 2008, according to the State Administration of Work Safety, 3,215 miners lost their lives. In Shanxi in 2009, 77 men
died in one accident at Tunlan coal mine in Gujiao city, which is close to the provincial capital of Taiyuan. While there is no suggestion that Yangquan company –
one of the country’s top five coal-mining companies, and China’s largest producer of anthracite coal – is
any way culpable in respect of any of the fatalities, it did strike me as somewhat distasteful that in a year that has
been beset by large-scale mining disasters, and in a year when the Shanxi economy was the only provincial economy
to shrink (minus 4.4 per cent y-o-y for the first half of 2009), the company had decided to hold a huge end-of-year bash
I couldn’t stop myself thinking that the money paid out for the large shoal of king prawns being devoured
by their employees and guests would have been better spent on improving the industry's safety record, or providing
better support to the loved ones of those brave men who so tragically lost their lives. I glanced at the singer again. The smoky backdrop suddenly appeared strangely macabre.