China has pledged to develop the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region as the Silk Road’s main tour dispatch hub by 2020 through a national tourism financial aid package.
The aid, initiated by the China National Tourism Administration, includes a 350 million yuan ($56 million) tourism development fund for toilet construction, projects, personnel training and souvenir development, as well as international travel fairs and marketing.
The tourism industry of Xinjiang still faces disadvantages but has great potential, especially the southern part of the region, said Li Jinzao, the director of administration.
“The ancient Silk Road left many cultural heritage sites with great attractiveness to visitors,” Li said.
“We should build the southern part of Xinjiang into an ethnic-featured tourism destination on the Silk Road, and this requires us to integrate resources to build outstanding scenic spots and tourism towns.”
The vision for Xinjiang first started developing five years ago during a central work conference in Beijing.
Nineteen provinces and cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, decided to provide support for Xinjiang’s development.
In the same year, the tourism administration also launched a special fund of 20 million yuan per year to support development of Xinjiang’s tourism industry.
The aid helped Xinjiang in the areas of planning, tourism project investment, attracting tourists and training personnel.
Boosted by previous aid, Xinjiang tourism has enjoyed steady growth in the past five years. In 2014, nearly 50 million visits were paid to Xinjiang, an increase of nearly 59 percent from 2010.
In 2015, it expects to receive more than 55 million visits, both from home and abroad.
“More than 200 tourism projects with a more than 5 billion yuan investment in the past five years have significantly improved our tourism infrastructure and industry level,” said Li Jidong, Party chief of the region’s tourism authority.
For guide, job is a family affair
Eight years ago, Ayinurgul Anigul was a teenager growing up in Bulayiq in the Turpan Basin, without any knowledge of tourism. She didn’t know what to make of the strangers and the “good-looking elder brothers and sisters holding little flags”.
“Then I knew that it was because Bulayiq was rated as a 5A scenic spot. The people holding flags were tour guides and those strangers were here to visit,” said Anigul, 26.
Impressed by the tour guides, Anigul chose to become one. Her first travel group was from Hunan province. “I was so nervous that I forgot all the lines. But they were still very nice to me, and they wanted to see the place where I live,” she said.
Anigul found many tourists were interested in local culture and village life in the eastern part of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. Driven by the demand, Anigul and her family started to provide services to tourists in 2010. They made 150,000 yuan ($24,000) in the first year.
“I do the interpretation work as a tour guide. My parents can cook local food, and my brother and sister-in-law can perform dance,” Anigul said. “As we developed, the local tourism authority provided funds for us to upgrade our facility. This really motivated us and our neighbors.”
With more tourists visiting Xinjiang, Anigul said tourism has truly helped the lives of local residents.
“In March, we held an apricot blossom tourism fair. Organizers gave us the priority to set our booth there, and it gave local herdsmen an extra channel to make profits,” she said.
“The tourists came to Bulayiq and spent more than 70,000 yuan on roasted meat and raisins. Our village-themed tourism service also earned 20,000 yuan.”