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Beaches, skiing and tai chi: Club Med, Chinese style
Sanya, China (AFP) Oct 13, 2016

China's ranks of super-rich rise despite economic slowdown
Beijing (AFP) Oct 13, 2016 - More Chinese joined the ranks of the super-rich this year, a survey showed Thursday, bringing the total to an all-time high despite dragging growth in the world's second-largest economy.

A total of 2,056 people have a net worth of two billion yuan ($297 million) or more, Shanghai-based luxury magazine publisher Hurun Report said in its Richest People in China report, up from 1,877 last year.

That rise defied the grinding slowdown in China's economic miracle, which saw growth slip to 6.9 percent in 2015 -- its lowest rate in a quarter of a century -- and which has slowed further this year.

Property and entertainment mogul Wang Jianlin, 62, chairman of conglomerate Wanda Group, was tipped the richest man in China with a fortune of $32.1 billion, down two percent from a year ago, the survey said.

He was followed by e-commerce and financial services giant Alibaba's founder Jack Ma, whose wealth was estimated to have surged 41 percent to $30.6 billion on the back of a boom in the company's market capitalisation and a round of investment valuing affiliate Ant Financial at $60 billion, it said.

Pony Ma, head of the online gaming and communications giant Tencent, which owns popular social networking app WeChat, ranked the third richest with a net worth of $24.6 billion after cashing out $1.9 billion from the sale of some of his shares in the company, it said.

The biggest riser this year was mysterious tycoon Yao Zhenhua, who shot up 200 places to fourth on the list on a nine-fold increase in his wealth to $17.2 billion, the survey said.

Yao made headlines over the past year for his hostile takeover bid of the country's leading real estate developer Vanke through his privately-owned Baoneng Group.

"Yao's financial investment model represents the new wave of wealth creation in China," said Hurun Report chairman Rupert Hoogewerf in a statement.

"The first money made in China twenty years ago came from trading, followed by manufacturing, real estate, IT and today it is about using the capital markets for financial investments," he said.

Financial investments and the IT industry were the "hottest" wealth-creating sectors, accounting for a combined 23 percent of the total listers, up from 20 percent last year, the survey showed.

Manufacturing, which is plagued by overcapacity, was the biggest loser, with its share falling to 26 percent this year from 28 percent in 2015, it added.

China's Top Ten

1 Wang Jianlin & family $32.1bn

2 Jack Ma & family $30.6bn

3 Pony Ma $24.6bn

4 Yao Zhenhua $17.2bn

5 Zong Qinghou & family $16.7bn

6 Yan Hao & family $14.9bn

6 William Ding Lei $14.9bn

8 Robin Li & Melissa Ma $14.7bn

9 Lu Zhiqiang & family $12.7bn

10 Xu Jiayin $11.6bn

10 He Xiangjian & He Jianfeng $11.6bn

10 Yan Bin $11.6bn

10 Zhang Jindong $11.6bn

Tai chi, mahjong and karaoke are on the menu alongside more traditional offerings such as sailing at Club Med's new resort on the Chinese island of Hainan, as the French holiday group -- now Chinese-owned -- adapts its European formula for the market.

The all-inclusive village near the resort town of Sanya is the company's fourth in China, and it is in talks to open around 15 more in the next four years.

It is something of a reversal of how firms usually target Chinese travellers, with Club Med seeking to bring its model to tourists within the Middle Kingdom, rather than draw them to other countries.

On a 12-hectare (30-acre) beachside estate complete with multiple pools, the emblematic "Gentils Organisateurs" or "GOs" -- "Gentle Organisers" -- recreate the tried and true Club Med recipe of sports activities, supervised childcare, and unlimited food and drink.

On a stretch of sand dotted with huts and palm trees, Shu Qi, a polo-shirted Beijinger in his fifties, admired the ocean with his elderly parents, wife and three-year-old son.

"It's a change from crowded beaches! It's ideal for families," he said, noting how those near downtown Sanya were notoriously swarmed and often plagued by noisy construction.

Shu discovered Club Med while visiting the Maldives.

"It's very practical, as the price is all-inclusive with meals, and the international atmosphere is good for the children," he said.

The cheapest of the 384 rooms available at the new Hainan site go for 2,300 yuan ($340) a night.

Club Med CEO Henri Giscard d'Estaing, son of the former French president Valery, told AFP: "We're aiming at a high-end clientele, a portion of whom have already experienced Club Med while abroad."

- Exile vacation -

Once a place of exile, Hainan island, China's southernmost province, has become a popular tourist destination, particularly in winter.

In a country where family remains important but workers' annual holiday quotas are often limited, "the French concept of vacation villages meets the needs of the Chinese very well", said Qian Jiannong, vice president of Chinese conglomerate Fosun, which bought Club Med last year.

After establishing its first winter sports village in China in 2010, Club Med set up shop amid the stunning karst scenery of Guilin, before opening a beach vacation village on an island in the Pearl River delta between Hong Kong and Macau.

Now the country is Club Med's biggest market outside France, with some 200,000 clients expected this year and forecasting annual growth of 20 percent.

After criss-crossing the globe to collect trophy selfies at major sites, some well-off Chinese travellers are now turning towards more relaxed staycations.

A Chinese hotel industry overcrowded with establishments that all look alike and designed for business clientele has left Club Med an opportunity, said Giscard d'Estaing.

But it faces rivalry from competitors, both foreign -- such as France's Pierre & Vacances, owner of Center Parcs -- and domestic.

Sanya tourism was "a very particular seasonal and regional market" Xiao Yimin, research director at Shanghai Fosea Capital, told AFP, adding that Club Med's success there "doesn't reflect the maturity of the whole Chinese market, but only a huge concentration of family travelling in one place at seasonal times".

With outbound tourism growth slowing, competition between providers within China for middle class tourists will increase, he added, and the future might not be as rosy.

- Karaoke rooms -

Club Med has sought to adapt to local tastes.

In Sanya, there are seven karaoke rooms -- always fully booked -- and three mah-jong parlours, as well as a 24-hour noodle bar, and tai chi lessons have been developed to appeal to people in their 30s who rarely practice the discipline.

Clients are around two-thirds mainland Chinese, and the rest primarily South Korean or Taiwanese.

Under the coconut trees, multi-generational family clans gather as well as couples spoiling their only child without dropping their smartphones.

Families are initially "reluctant to let their kids go off alone to activities, and when they see a GO sit down at their their table, they find it inappropriate", but soon adapt, said Rachel Mondre, head of customer services.

Tanning, too, is out of the question for the Chinese, who have a traditional preference for pale skin.

The group faces other cultural challenges, acknowledged Jason Wen, a tai chi teacher who works at the village.

"People in China are not used to the concept of holiday resorts," he said. "Club Med might bring progressively a change, but it will be a slow, very slow process."

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