Already popular at home, Yunnan sells itself as global tourist destination

By Zhang Ye Source:Global Times Published: 2017/2/22 18:28:39

International attraction

With its beautiful landscapes and diverse ethnic population, Southwest China's Yunnan Province has become one of the trendiest tourist destinations in China. In 2016, it attracted 431 million visits from home and abroad, up 31 percent. In 2017, the province is holding promotional activities around the world to attract more tourists, especially from overseas.

Tourists gaze at the scenery in Dali, Southwest China's Yunnan Province, in January. Photo: CFP

Although she has traveled in Southwest China's Yunnan Province four times, Huang Xi wants to make another trip.

"I plan to go there again. I'm attracted not only by the natural scenery, but also the fun facts about the colorful ethic minorities there," the 26-year-old Beijing resident told the Global Times on Monday.

For instance, she cautioned that tourists need to be careful about accepting a cup of tea from a Naxi minority family.

"I was told that if you do not finish it, you may be required to serve as the family's coolie for several years," Huang said, giggling.

More than half of China's ethnic minority groups reside in the province, according to Yunnan provincial government data.

Featuring amazing natural scenery, a mild climate and colorful ethic minorities, Yunnan was the trendiest tourist destination in China in 2016, according to a response from China's leading online travel agency Ctrip to the Global Times on Tuesday.

In 2016, Chinese tourist visits to the province rose 32 percent to 425 million, according to the China National Tourism Administration's website. Meanwhile, overseas tourists paid 6 million visits to the province in 2016, up 5.31 percent year-on-year.

Foreign tourists make up a small proportion of Yunnan tourists, which may explain why the central and local governments have been promoting the province as a tourist destination around the world.

Worldwide promotion

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs held a promotional forum on Monday in Beijing to present Yunnan's attractions to the world. 

Diplomatic envoys from more than 140 countries and regions, as well as representatives from international organizations in China, attended the forum.

The forum opened with an English-language documentary, showcasing the province's scenic sights, such as Shangri-La and the snowcapped Meri Snow Mountain, its ethnic groups, as well as its rapidly growing industries such as tea, coffee and pharmaceuticals.

During the forum, Foreign Minister Wang Yi called himself an advocate for Yunnan and encouraged the attendees to go to the province in person to experience the local food, culture and history. 

"I just drank a cup of Hogood coffee [a local coffee brand of Yunnan]. This coffee, I'm not exaggerating, is the best I have ever had in the world," Wang said.

Before the forum, Yunnan had already started promoting itself to the world as a tourist destination.

In January, the Yunnan Tourism Development Committee (YTDC) held promotional events in Australia and New Zealand. On February 15, it held similar events in New Delhi, India. 

Yunnan officials have pledged to build up two to three border tourism pilot areas and one cross-border tourism cooperation pilot zone in 2017. The province will also seek to establish a tourism alliance among cities on the Lancong-Mekong River, according to a statement YTDC issued in January. The river flows out of Yunnan through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Yunnan projected its tourism revenue to grow 42 percent to 670 billion yuan ($97 billion) in 2017. The province estimated it will receive 6.5 million foreign tourist visits and 560 million visits from Chinese tourists.

Improvements needed

Negative news haunted Yunnan's tourist industry in recently years. One recent news report detailed how a woman, her face covered in scrapes, got beaten up by 12 men while eating barbecue in Lijiang, a Naxi minority city of Yunnan, on November 11, 2016. An ancient town in Lijiang has been listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.

Due to negative news, Internet users have expressed concerns about the quality of the traveling experience in Yunnan, as well as for their personal safety.

It's occasionally seen that tour guides in Yunnan pressured tourists to buy things, said Mo Chu, a tourism expert with Fliggy, the online travel agency owned by e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding.

"It is a deeply rooted issue that will take time to fix with joints efforts of all aspects," Mo told the Global Times on Tuesday.

With the government getting more involved in regulating the tourism industry, Fliggy and Ctrip are optimistic about the industry's prospects in Yunnan.

On February 10, Yunnan Governor Ruan Chengfa pledged to deal with the industry's outstanding issues with stricter regulations and to set up a special team to eliminate the problems within six months.

Apart from future regulations, more improvement needs to be taken in the eyes of foreign consumers like Kyaw Win Khaing, a resident of Muse, the main border gateway between northeastern Myanmar and Yunnan.

Khaing and his friends love to travel in Thailand, citing more convenient personnel exchange procedures. Unlike in China, they do not need a visa to enter Thailand. In addition, Thailand offers more choices of overseas products from Japan and South Korea at lower prices, the 21-year-old man told the Global Times Monday.

"We Burmese people come to Yunnan frequently to do businesses and look for work, just not to travel," he said.

More than sightseeing

While promoting Yunnan's beautiful scenery and amazing coffee, Wang and top Yunnan officials consistently emphasized the important role that the province is playing in China's opening-up policy and the "One Belt and One Road" initiative.

Yunnan has long served as a bridge to South and Southeast Asia. With 25 international ports, Yunnan handled 35.6 billion yuan in trade in 2016, up 37.1 percent. Ruili, a major border crossing between China and Myanmar, was the busiest, handling 10.6 billion yuan in trade in 2016.

China has been aggressively pushing the "Belt and Road" initiative since President Xi Jinping proposed it in 2013, aiming to enhance regional connectivity.

The "Belt and Road" routes run through Asia, Europe and Africa. So far, Chinese companies have built 56 economic and trade cooperation zones in more than 20 countries along the routes. They have invested more than $18.5 billion and created 180,000 jobs in those countries, Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said at a press conference on Tuesday.  

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