KASHGAR, Xinjiang - The tourism industry will play a new role in maintaining social stability in Kashgar, officials of the heartland city in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region said during this week's first travel festival.
Uygur women display their long hair in the Long Plait Show on Aug 16 in Kashgar of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. Provided to China Daily
Grappling with a high labor surplus, the local government in Kashgar hopes that millions of tourists worldwide will help create more jobs by visiting the region.
"The tourism industry is a lifeline to Kashgar," said Wang Yongzhi, deputy head of the government of Kashgar region.
"As it is labor intensive, it will solve the unemployment problem to a great extent and eliminate the hazards to social stability caused by joblessness."
Most of the nearly 4 million residents in the Kashgar region live on agriculture. But arable land, usually lying in oases dotted on the edge of the desert, amounts to roughly 7 million mu (466,667 hectares), or less than two mu per capita.
At present, only a fraction of the population is employed in the tourism industry in the region.
Only 15,000 people are directly involved in the tourism industry, said Gao Yi, Party secretary of the tourism bureau of the Kashgar region. Thousands more have found job opportunities in related areas, such as catering and selling souvenirs.
For those who are already involved in tourism, life has improved significantly.
In the Jinhuyang national wild park in Zepu county of the Kashgar region, for example, the average income of the Uygur villagers employed by the park rose to 5,300 yuan ($779) a year in 2009 from less than 700 yuan a year in 2000, according to Mao Ziqiang, head of the tourism bureau in Zepu county of Kashgar region.
"Income from the tourism industry provides about 1,000 yuan a year per household," Mao said.
Compared to other regions and cities in Xinjiang, tourism in Kashgar is just beginning, Wang said. Of the potential 131 scenic spots, only 36 are currently open to tourists.
"At present, we do not have enough hotel rooms to accommodate visitors," he said.
As security concerns have eased in Xinjiang and the central government has pledged to economically develop Kashgar, visitors have been flocking to the region.
The number of tourists who visited Kashgar in the first seven months of this year reached 1.7 million, surpassing the 1.53 million who visited in 2009, according to official figures.
In recent months, there has been a room occupancy ratio of 80 to 90 percent at almost all the hotels in Kashgar.