Paralyzed by the Xinjiang riot and the violent aftermath, the tourism industry, one of the pillars of this region's economy, may be resuscitated under a new proposal.
Under a plan by the tourism bureau of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, tourism-related companies will receive subsidies totaling 5 million yuan ($732,000). The plan is pending for approval from the regional government.
The plan is necessary to rescue an industry that lost an estimated 1 billion yuan in revenue after the unrest this month, said Chi Chongqing, the tourism bureau's Party chief.
Chi forecasts losses totaling 5 billion yuan this year.
The funding would subsidize tourist agencies or redeem companies who slashed ticket prices to many scenic spots, he said.
In addition, each traveler who visits Xinjiang before Aug 31 would receive a 10-yuan subsidy per day under the proposal, Chi said, predicting the move could attract 50,000 tourists during the period.
The proposal also suggests that all top-flight tourist destinations in Xinjiang cut ticket prices by half.
The bureau is also negotiating with airlines about fare cuts to attract more passengers.
"We plan to broadcast promotional videos on TV and dispatch sales staff to other regions across China soon," Chi said.
About 3,400 domestic and overseas tourist groups, comprising 200,000 travelers, had canceled tours as of Sunday, Chi said.
"The proposals must have some positive effects to the industry," said Zheng Sui, general manager with the Xinjiang office of China Youth Travel Service.
On Wednesday, travel agencies in Guangdong province resumed bookings for tours to the region after a week-long suspension.
"I think the first tourist group will leave for Xinjiang early next week since the situation in the region is returning to normal," said Wen Shuang, a manager with the domestic tour department of Guangzhilu International Travel Service.
In Shanghai yesterday, 19 tourists set off on a trip to Xinjiang, the first after the riot.
The tour group, organized by Shanghai Zhenqu Travel Agency, boarded a train at about 4 pm to Lanzhou, capital of Gansu province, from where they will travel along the ancient Silk Road.
"I think the trip should be safe," said Shen Jianhua, general manager of the agency who leads the groups. "In case it is not safe, we will skip Urumqi and head back from Turpan."
But Shen is still cautious. He said he had changed the group's Urumqi accommodations from a location near the International Grand Bazzar, a major tourist spot at the heart of the riot, to a spot located in a region inhabited mostly by Han people.
After the riot, Shen's agency, like others in the city, has seen many tourists cancel tours.
Zhang Jie, with Shanghai municipal travel commission, said that the commission had issued a warning to every agency, requesting them to be more careful and to keep track of every tourist group.
According to Dazhong Travel Agency, the price to travel to Xinjiang dropped about 700 yuan compared to the same period last year.
But Zhang Jianquan with Shanghai Travel Service Ltd admits his company and most agencies are preparing for a boom next month as summer approaches, according to the Shanghai Morning Post. Summer is considered the best season to travel to the region.
Xinhua contributed to the story