Booming tourism in Xinjiang shows region’s vibrant consumption, promising growth prospects
Published: May 20, 2024 08:22 PM
Picture shows natural landscape of Altay Prefecture, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Photo: VCG

Picture shows natural landscape of Altay Prefecture, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Photo: VCG

As the summer tourist peak season arrives, along with the catalytic effect of recent hit TV dramas, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region is witnessing a boom in tourism, underscoring the vitality and growth prospects of tourism and economic development in China's vast western region.

China's travel platform Fliggy told the Global Times on Monday that the search volume for the Altay region, located in the northern part of Xinjiang, has surged by more than five times. Data showed week-on-week growth of more than 50 percent in flight bookings to the region, and the number of car rental bookings has doubled.

Observers said that the tourism boom in Altay and the entire Xinjiang region can be attributed to the region's abundant and unique tourist resources. Meanwhile, it reflects the region's ramped-up efforts to improve its economic development, service standards and transportation capabilities.

The robust growth of the tourism sector is poised to provide significant momentum for driving economic growth and stimulating consumption, not only in Xinjiang but also throughout China's entire western region, industry insiders noted.

Xinjiang has consistently been a highly favored tourist destination among domestic and international travelers. The latest surge was in part driven by the recently acclaimed Chinese TV series To the Wonder, which showcases the stunning landscapes and genuine, heartwarming lifestyles of residents in the Altay region.

On Monday, China Southern Airlines, the largest main base airline in Xinjiang, told the Global Times that bookings for Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang and the primary departure point for tourists traveling to Altay, have seen a substantial increase for the next month. Inbound trip bookings to Altay have surged by over 50 percent.

To date, the airline has served 80,600 passengers in the Altay region this year, up by 14 percent year-on-year. Following the end of the May Day holidays, the continuous growth in passenger flows has propelled the local tourism industry to new heights, according to a Southern Airlines statement sent to the Global Times on Monday.

Multiple travel agencies in Beijing told the Global Times on Monday that since March, China's western provincial-level regions such as Xinjiang, Gansu and Qinghai have emerged as hit tourist destinations. Consultations and booking volumes for these places have shown a rapid uptrend, with this year's peak season arriving earlier than in previous years.

Cheng Xin, a sales manager of a branch of Beijing UTour International Travel Service, told the Global Times that consultations and bookings for Xinjiang tourism products at the store have soared by more than 50 percent compared with the previous year. Trips to northern Xinjiang, notably destinations such as Altay, have seen a rise of more than 30 percent in both inquiries and bookings.

A sales manager surnamed Bao from China Youth Travel Service, one of the top tourism players in China specializing in group tours, told the Global Times that the company's store has seen a 30-40 percent rise in group tour bookings to northern Xinjiang year-on-year.

"The market usually picks up steam during summer vacations, but this year, the area has become increasingly popular since April," Bao said.

Apart from burgeoning domestic tourism, China's western regions are also seeing a growing influx of foreign visitors due to the rapid recovery of the international tourism market and the resumption of more international flights, coupled with China's visa-free policies with multiple countries and various facilitation measures.

Official data showed that during the first quarter, Xinjiang welcomed 41.0133 million tourists, a 15.88 percent year-on-year increase, with tourism revenue soaring by 53.8 percent to 43.744 billion yuan ($6.05 billion). Inbound tourists surged by 421.49 percent to 869,100, driving international tourism revenue up by 353.77 percent to $594 million.

Analysts anticipate that tourism in China's western regions will offer significant momentum for economic growth and stability, inject considerable impetus into domestic consumption, and contribute to achieving this year's growth target.

China has been making all-out efforts to facilitate foreigners visiting the country. In addition to implementing visa-free policies with numerous countries this year, the country announced in early May an extension of its visa-free policy for 12 countries until the end of 2025. A visa exemption policy for foreign tourist groups arriving on cruise ships from China's coastal provinces and cities has taken effect on Wednesday.

The ongoing drive for high-level opening-up on all fronts has delivered positive outcomes. During the May Day holidays, official figures recorded 3.672 million tourists, including 1.775 million inbound tourists. 

Foreign visitors to China in the first quarter tripled year-on-year. The number of visas issued to foreigners increased by 118.8 percent to 466,000, while the number of foreigners entering China without visas rose 266.1 percent to 1.988 million, according to official data.