Holiday from hardship

By Xie Wenting in Turpan Source:Global Times Published: 2016/8/25 19:08:39

Xinjiang local governments hope to eliminate poverty through tourism

The Xinjiang authorities aim to bring 300,000 residents out of poverty through tourism by 2020. In Turpan, the tourism bureau has already taken a series of measures to help impoverished locals. While the low awareness of tourism among residents, lagging investment and publicity pose obstacles, the government optimistically expects to achieve their goal by the end of 2016.

Uyghur people living in Grape Valley's Baiximaili village are expecting to see more visitors in the coming years. Photo: Cui Meng/GT

Ajihan Wushouer was understandably thrilled when her family's annual income doubled to 20,000 yuan ($3,005) in 2014.

The 69-year-old, a local of Grape Valley, Turpan, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, had never made so much money in a single year before.

The seven members of her family used to make a living by growing grapes. In 2014, they were offered a new way to make a living - tourism. Since then, selling food to tourists has become the family's important source of income.

On the busiest days, Wushouer can sell about 200 plates of "hand pilaf," a traditional Xinjiang dish made of rice, carrots and lamb. For each plate, she charges 20 yuan.

Wushouer's home was chosen by the local government along with five other houses in Baiximaili village as pilot places to test how effective tourism is at alleviating poverty, according to Guli Tursun, an official with the village's management committee.

Grape Valley is a 5A scenic spot (the highest rank for a scenic spot in China), which is renowned for its high-quality grapes.

The chosen houses provide tourists with meals, tour guides and accommodation.

"Before carrying out the project (of eliminating poverty through tourism), the dirt road in the village was replaced with a concrete road and the sewage system was renovated. We also taught them how to run hospitality services," Tursun said.

Seeing and envying the success, now more and more local households are joining the trend of developing tourism to alleviate poverty. "So far we have 32 households in the village that provide tourism services," she told the Global Times.

The pilot project in Grape Valley is one small part of the Xinjiang tourism administration's larger plan - to help 300,000 people in Xinjiang escape poverty through tourism by the end of 2020, according to the local news website

Though they are optimistic about the future, villagers and officials told the Global Times that the difficulty of getting the word out about local tourism, as well as the low general awareness in Xinjiang of the money that can be made through tourism and the lack of investment all pose obstacles on their road.

Lifting out of poverty

In May, Premier Li Keqiang addressed the First World Conference on Tourism Development hosted in Beijing, at which he vowed that the government will help bring 12 million people out of poverty in the next five years through tourism development, Xinhua reported.

This echoes the country's greater plan to help all of China's poor out of poverty by 2020.

As of the end of 2014, there were 70.17 million people in rural areas living under the official poverty line. Based on the 2010 price standards, the line is set at an annual income of 2,300 yuan. 

While Grape Valley is known nationally for its produce, Xie Feng, the director of the Gaochang district tourism bureau in Turpan, noted that as the population here is so dense and there is so little arable land, there is little space to bring more people into the industry.

Wushouer said that before the family barely bought anything in order to save money.

"We didn't have money. So we didn't have any choice," she said.

At the gate of Wushouer's house, there is a silk banner indicating that boxer Zou Shiming and his son stayed here while filming the popular reality show Dad, Where are we going?

"After the show, many people come to visit my house. But I don't dare to charge them money. I didn't know whether this is legal or not," she said, before taking out a photo of her with Zou and his son.

Zou's son, dressed in fashionable clothes, stands in sharp contrast with her own grandsons, who were running in the yard, naked.

"Our finances have improved after developing tourism," she said. "I don't have enough room to let people stay here. I just hope there will be a steady flow of tourists for my meals."

For Wushouer, though her Putonghua is poor, the language barrier is not a problem.

"I can understand what they say. And I can speak a little myself. Also many tourists come here with translators. So this isn't a problem," she told the Global Times.

Alim, 47, living along the same road as Wushouer, tasted "the fruits of tourism" years ago when he opened a canteen in a place with plenty of tourists.

Seeing that Alim made a profit in the canteen, his landlord later took it over, leaving him no choice but to return home.

According to Alim, his family income has increased by more than 50 percent annually over the last few years, for which he credits tourism.

In his house, tourists can taste local foods and buy souvenirs and fruits.

On the day he was interviewed by the Global Times, the village management committee was inspecting his house before deciding whether or not they will help him provide accommodation to tourists

As there are still idle rooms in Alim's house, the committee officials taught him how to decorate them and how to make the rooms suitable for city dwellers.

When he was told that his small bed and breakfast business is expected to open soon, he told the Global Times that his hope is "we can make our living entirely on tourism in the future, if more people come."

Bright future

According to Wushouer and Alim, the local government helps bring customers to their houses.

Wushouer said that during last April's Apricot Blossom Festival more than 100 tourists brought by the local government flooded to her house every day.

"Many people who have been to my house and tasted my food told me that they would come again this year. I was expecting them to come, but they didn't come. I think they may have gotten lost trying to find my house. The house is not that conspicuous," she said.

She added that she really hopes that the government can help her erect a sign outside the house to advertise her services.

Xie of the Gaochang district tourism bureau noted that the villagers need guidance to help them transform their way of thinking from being farmers to people in the tourism industry.

"If they know the benefits of tourism and they can make more money in it, this will accelerate the changing of their mentality," he said.

According to Xie, so far there are three ways to get villagers involved in tourism.

The first is to train young people to become employed in the tertiary industry at scenic spots. The second is encouraging them to use part of their houses to satisfy the tourists' dining and accommodation demands. The third is to cooperate with other relevant governmental bureaus including the industrial and commercial bureau to get locals involved in selling local products.

In different places, different tactics are used, according to him. Around Ayding Lake in Turpan, villagers are mostly involved in selling local products. In Grape Valley, residents are helped to provide accommodation and dining services to make profit.

According to the National Tourism Administration, 2.64 million people left poverty through the tourism industry in 2015, 18.3 percent of the total amount of people who were lifted out of poverty that year.

From the start of 2016 to August 22, 2.98 million tourists visited Gaochang, a 93 percent year-on-year growth, according to him.

But still, he admits, many people still don't know about this place and the publicity is not enough. "We're working on this," he said.

Besides, there is a scarcity of local investment and most of the money still has to come from the government, he added. 

On the other hand, he told the Global Times that compared with other regions, Turpan has its edge in tourism as it has so many historical sites and scenic spots.

There are 18 designated scenic spots and eight 4A cultural heritage sites in Turpan.

While the national goal is to totally alleviate poverty by 2020, Xie said they aim to attain the goal by the end of this year in the villages.

"I'm optimistic about the future," he said.

Wei Wei and Ren Yaoti contributed to this story

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