Thomas Cook has signed a deal to create new travel packages from the UK to the Chinese tropical beach resort of Sanya on Hainan island.

Sanya is currently accessible with international flights via Chinese gateway cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

However direct flights from the UK could be in place as early as the first half of 2017, according to officials from the destination known as ‘the Hawaii of China’.

Sanya is investing in new infrastructure including roads, railways, tourism industry regulation and improved service to visitors.

Expansion of a cruise terminal is underway and a new airport is to be built on an artificial island, with its annual passenger throughput expected to reach 60 million.

Yue Jin, deputy party secretary of the Sanya Municipal Committee and the city’s executive vice mayor, of was in the UK to sign the deal with Thomas Cook and a sister city agreement with Blackpool.

“British tourists are adventurous travellers and familiar with tropical destinations across the globe. Sanya offers a new experience which combines China’s traditional culture with over 300 sunny days a year, clean air, crystal clear waters and extensive sandy beaches and sports including golf and diving,” he said.

“Sanya has invested heavily in its infrastructure yet retained its character as the pearl of the South China Sea.

“It remains relatively undiscovered on the international stage and surpasses other more crowded destinations on issues of safety and cleanliness, variety of experiences from rainforests to mountains as well as value for money in terms of visitor attractions.”

Sanya attracted 358,000 overseas tourists last year and plans to boost this number to more than one million by 2018.

As many as 20 million visitors are projected to visit Sanya by 2020, making it the largest international tourism hub in South China.