Xiamen is a city with its own distinctive place in Chinese history. Once known by its Romanized name Amoy, Xiamen Island came into its own as a trading port thanks to one of the finest natural harbors in the world. For 300 years during the Song Dynasty it was one of the few Chinese seaports open to foreign trade. The Treaty of Nanking that ended the First Opium War in 1842 made Xiamen one of the five Chinese treaty ports.
Located on the southeast coast of China facing the Taiwan Strait, during the 20th century Xiamen found itself on the front lines of the Cold War. With the Taiwanese-administered Kinmen Islands less than six miles away, the hotly contested coastal region was a flash point with frequent exchanges of artillery fire across the water. The tense political situation stunted Xiamen’s development because of its location near Taiwan.
However, as the Cold War thawed, the city’s proximity to Taiwan
began to offer its own set of competitive advantages. With improving cross-strait relations, Xiamen is now booming. As a result of Deng Xiaoping’s Opening Up Policy in the 1980s, the city was classified as one of China’s first five special economic zones.
The island’s enviable natural harbor has long since become a lake thanks to land reclamation. But the city now boasts a deepwater port that receives international cruise ships and handles substantial cargo, and its mature infrastructure gives it a leg up in attracting both international and domestic business investment. Beijing has included the city as a core part of the Fujian Pilot Free Trade Zone. The move positions Xiamen as a Cross-Strait Financial and Trade Centre, and a strategic link in the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
Business in Xiamen centers around electronics, commercial shipping, machinery, finance and software/IT services. Computer giant Dell has its regional headquarters here, and Lenovo, Prima Electronics, Amoi Electronics and NEC are other major high-tech players, along with King Long Motor and XGMA Machinery Corp in the industrial sector. Xiamen is also the world’s largest producer and exporter of tungsten products.
Xiamen is a growing transportation hub, thanks to its high-speed rail network that connects it to Hong Kong and Guangzhou in the south, and Shanghai to the north. But perhaps the transportation story that most dramatically reflects Xiamen’s ascent on the world stage is the remarkable rise of the eponymous Xiamen Airlines.
Founded in 1984, Xiamen Air actually predates China’s Big Three carriers – Air China, China Eastern and China Southern – by at least four years. Until recently, however, the airline’s business model focused solely on domestic and regional markets. Today it is a state-owned subsidiary of China Southern Airlines.
Xiamen Air is the only Chinese airline to have an all-Boeing fleet, boasting more than 140 aircraft including the new 737 Max plus three-class 757-200s. Significantly Xiamen Air’s roster also includes the 787-8 Dreamliner, the first of which it deployed on its inaugural intercontinental route to Amsterdam. Currently the carrier has six of the aircraft in its fleet, along with the newer 787-9.
In addition to Amsterdam, the network of Xiamen Air-operated flights has expanded rapidly to include Sydney (2015), and Melbourne and Seattle (2016). Most recently, the airline began flying nonstop flights between Fuzhou and New York JFK in February 2017 using its 787.
Xiamen Air is a member of the Skyteam alliance along with fellow Chinese carriers China Eastern and China Southern, as well as
Asian carriers China Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, Korean Air and
Vietnam Airlines, and global carriers Air France, Delta Air Lines and KLM, serving 1,074 destinations.
According to Xiamen Air’s president, Che Shanglun, “Xiamen Air is changing from what it used to be and looking for new development.” Che says the carrier has ambitions to break into the top 20 airlines in the world aviation market and become the leading Asia-Pacific airline, growing its fleet to 268 aircraft by 2020 and increasing its annual passenger capacity to 50 million.
Xiamen Air operates out of three main hubs in China: In addition to Fuzhou Changle International and Hangzhou Xiaoshan International, the airline’s home base is Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport. Opened in 1983, the single-runway airport is one of the ten busiest in China. It’s on the north side of Xiamen Island only six miles from the city center, and as the city grows, the airport is left with little room to expand.
As a result, a new airport is under construction on Dadeng Island in the Xiangan District. When it opens at the end of 2025 the new facility – tentatively named Xiamen Xiangan Airport – will have two runways, a 6-million-square-foot terminal with capacity for up to 45 million passengers. Two subway lines will carry those passengers back and forth to the city.
Relax & Unwind
Many of those 45 million visitors will be coming to Xiamen for leisure travel. Besides the technology and trade sectors, tourism is a big revenue generator, making Xiamen one of China’s ten most popular tourist destinations. The combination of mild climate (average annual temperature is 70 degrees) with a seaside location, lower hotel rates and an abundance of activities has made Xiamen an attractive vacation alternative. According to the city’s hoteliers, the same factors also contribute to its popularity as a destination for meetings, incentive travel and trade events.
In 1903, Gulangyu, a 500-acre islet southwest of the main island was made an international settlement, and a lot of offshore economic activity ensued. Today, the tiny island, reached by an eight-minute ferry ride from the southwestern harbor front, is popular with tourists for its colonial architecture and unique museums. From early morning till late afternoon, the quarter is jam-packed with visitors taking in the attractions, hanging out at the beach and sampling the many seafood restaurants here.
Where to Stay
Hyatt Regency — The Hyatt Regency brand has premiered in Xiamen with the opening of the Hyatt Regency Xiamen Wuyuanwan in the city’s newly developed central business district. The property is part of an upscale mixed use complex, and offers 301 rooms and suites plus four F&B outlets and more than 27,000 square feet of meeting and events space. Recreational options include a 24-hour gym with studio spaces and fitness classes, and an outdoor pool. Visit hyatt.com to learn more.
Conrad — Hilton Worldwide has opened the Conrad Xiamen, the brand’s debut in Fujian province. The new property occupies the 37th to 54th floors of the iconic Shimao Straits Tower in Siming’s Central Business District. The hotel has 241 guestrooms and suites, and features five F&B outlets onsite and 21,000 square feet of flexible event space. Amenities include a 24-hour health club, a heated 25-meter indoor swimming pool and the brand’s signature Conrad Spa. For more information, visit conradhotels.com
Indigo — IHG’s boutique hotel brand is contemporary and fresh. The interior décor of the Hotel Indigo Xiamen Harbor is built around motifs inspired by the city’s history as well as colorful paintings of legendary Chinese characters. There is only a small meeting room and there is no swimming pool, but it is a good place to stay if you want modern comfort in the middle of town. Visit ihg.com/hotelindigo for details.
Kempinski Hotel — As soon as you step into the lobby this hotel exudes a sense of grandeur. Under the high ceiling are a cylindrical glass wine cellar and a circular platform for an automatic piano. The property looks out to Yundang Lake and features 460 rooms and suites, including the Kempinski Executive Floors that come with 24-hour butler service. There are five food and beverage options. Find more information at kempinski.com
Le Méridien — This property consists of a lot of green space and villas, making it feel like a world apart. On one side are the slopes of Xianyue Hill, and on the other, you can see Xiamen Bay. Among the hotel’s features are a swimming pool and tennis courts. Each room has a card in the closet that suggests nearby jogging routes. The keycard also gives the guest free access to Gulangyu Piano Museum. Learn more at starwoodhotels.com/lemeridien
Marco Polo — This 20-year-old property underwent a thorough renovation a few years ago. The atrium design means that the lobby is visible from most public areas, giving the interior a sense of space. There are no grand chandeliers or opulent details – just a classic property in a central location. The club floor houses a fully equipped private club lounge offering a panoramic view of the city, and among the food and beverage options, Japanese restaurant Shogun offers discerning diners a more than ample choice of sushi, sashimi and teppanyaki. Visit marcopolohotels.com for more information
The Westin — The Westin is located inland near Xiamen City Library and the south gate of Xianyue Park. The property offers club floors and the Heavenly Spa, and there are a variety of food and beverage venues, including contemporary Chinese restaurant Five Zen5es and the cosmopolitan Qba steak and seafood restaurant. The latter also has a great outdoor area where barbecues are held. For details visit starwoodhotels.com/westin