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Tourism boom spices up ancient Silk Road

Tourism boom spices up ancient Silk Road

Wucaitan, or colorful beach, is known to visitors for its multicolored landscape created by years of water and wind erosion. [Photo/IC]

The economy of Altay prefecture in Northwest China‘s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region is getting a boost from millions of travelers seeking ancient Silk Road views and local residents starting related businesses.

Revenue from tourism and related businesses reached 3.5 billion yuan ($509 million) in the first half of 2018, up by 89.3 percent year-on-year. Tourist visits hit 4.48 million, up by 37.6 percent year-on-year.

“More local residents have seen the market potential and started running businesses such as restaurants, shops and hotels,” said Zhang Suhong, head of Altay city’s tourism bureau. “Tourism has become a driving force of local economic development.”

Altay prefecture, located in northern Xinjiang, is renowned for its various landscapes and tourism attractions. It covers one county-level city also named Altay, and six other counties including Burqin.

Zhang also said that tourism in Altay prefecture will see a boom in the next three years, as the local government is planning 8 billion yuan of investment to enhance multiple travel destinations, improving infrastructure such as public restrooms and transport networks.

“We are eyeing a well-developed industrial chain around tourism that has multiethnic elements,” Zhang said.

Yerkebtu, a local resident of Tuva ethnicity who used to graze cattle and horses, has been running homestay businesses with nine other families since 2015 in his home village in Kanas, one of Altay’s most attractive tourism destinations.

“We see more tourists coming to Kanas each year who are struggling to find a place to stay and buy souvenirs,” said Yerkebtu. “Tourists like products that have Tuva elements, as they cannot find those anywhere else.

“Why not start a business in the sector? We have houses, our families produce milk wines and sleighs the idea just came to us and we did not hesitate for long. It turned out later that we have acted at a good time,” Yerkebtu said.

In 2017, more than 1.7 million tourists visited Kanas, up 62.8 percent year-on-year. The boom has led to an average increase of 1,533 yuan in personal income for local farmers and shepherds.

To encourage more tourists to stay and spend in Kanas, the local government is also supporting and incubating more hotels, restaurants and shopping centers by investing nearly 4 billion yuan in infrastructure.

Measures include upgrading sewage disposal facilities and renovating more than 85 percent of public restrooms. To further generate vigor to the local economy, the government has dedicated a 3,450-square-meter area for local farmers and shepherds to use as retail stores for free.

Another of Altay’s tourism attractions, Wucaitan, is also making moves to improve accommodation services in the hope of attracting more visitors and generating more income for local residents.

Wucaitan, or colorful beach, is known to visitors for its multicolored landscape created by years of water and wind erosion.

Starting this May, Burqin, the county where Wucaitan is based and where most visitors tend to spend nights, carried out inspection tours of local restaurants to check hygiene, facilities and services.

The county also requests local hotels enhance heating services, as temperatures in winter can drop to-30 C.

According to Ye Suqin, head of the Burqin tourism bureau, tourism-related income now accounts for about 35 percent of local farmers’ and herdsmen’s total incomes.

Zhang Guoqing, 63, visited Wucaitan during a road trip with seven friends. According to Zhang, their trip started in Inner Mongolia autonomous region, and followed the ancient Silk Road, an ancient network of trade routes linking China with Central Asia and Europe.

“We saw many products sold along the route, and performances that contained elements from local ethnicitiesall of which added spice to our trip,” Zhang said.