Fast tracks help boost China's tourism industry

10:34, February 20, 2011      

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Miao ethnic women dance at a festival in Guiyang, Guizhou province. [Provided to China Daily]

China is speeding towards the goal of becoming the world's top travel destination, and the country's tourism industry is riding the fast train to expansion. Erik Nilssonreports.

China's proliferation of high-speed railways has become a driving engine of its tourism sector.

The tracks, which currently stretch 8,358 kilometers, facilitate trains which operate at some of the fastest speeds in the world, stretch the farthest to the most remote corners and is expanding at a pace that is, in itself, record-breaking .

This rapid expansion intersects with the country's full-speed-ahead tourism development - the world's fastest, according to the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The UNWTO expects China to become the most visited country in the world by 2015, by which time its high-speed lines will extend 16,000 km, according to Ministry of Railways spokesman Wang Yongping.

"High-speed rail lines have generated explosive tourism development in cities and scenic spots along their routes, and especially in cities that weren't major draws before, such as Tianjin and Hubei's provincial capital Wuhan," Wang tells China Daily.

"The tourism boom in these cities has made many residents feel as if they've become rich overnight."

Wuhan, for instance, received 47.869 million visitors, a 35.6 percent year-on-year increase, in the first seven months after the Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed line opened in December 2009. And this crush of tourists spent 37.826 trillion yuan, 43.8 percent more than during the same period of 2008, Wang says.

Tianjin's tourism revenues surged to more than 95 trillion yuan after the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railway became the country's first high-speed rail in August 2008. More than 100,000 people were trained for the municipality's tourism and hospitality industries to meet increased demand that year, Wang adds.

And a record 3.56 million tourists visited the city and spent 2.72 billion yuan over this year's Spring Festival, a 13.1 percent year-on-year increase in tourism revenue for the holiday period, the local tourism bureau's figures show.

"Connecting Tianjin and Beijing so they're within half an hour of each other by train has made tourists feel as if they are traveling in the same city rather than between two," Wang says.

The municipalities' tourism departments have selected about 100 attractions - and offer special discounts for train-ticket holders - in the two cities and neighboring Hebei province to promote through the "Touring Beijing and Tianjin by Making the Most of the High-Speed Railway" campaign. International Inc president Wang Bo points out high-speed rail passengers save up to 50 percent of what they would otherwise have to pay for airfares and tend to spend the extra money at their destinations.

"These high-speed railways have offered new arteries to feed the development of small and medium-sized cities on the routes," Wang Yongping says.

All of the cities with stations along the "Golden Belt" - two connected lines running between Henan's provincial capital Zhengzhou and Louyang city, and Louyang and Shaanxi's provincial capital Xi'an - have undergone at least a 20 percent increase in visitors and travel revenue.

"I believe the high-speed train carriage is an elegant space," says 50-year-old Liu Chunhai, a regular passenger of the two-hour Golden Belt line.

"It's a comfortable environment with friendly attendants. People can watch TV, read or just relax in peace. And it's fast."

Wang Yongping explains that - as with the Golden Belt route's opening - the operation of the Wenzhou-Fuzhou railway speeds the development of the smaller settlements through which it passes.

It brought the first Gome, Sunning and Wal-Mart outlets to Fujian province's Ningde city. And it led to the opening of a Starbucks in the provincial capital Fuzhou, where the cafe giant had previously believed consumption would be too low to open a store.

Wang Yongping says tourists "can travel to a place 300 kilometers away and return home in the same day. But they can also see more of rural China out the window during their trips."

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