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Foreign adviser helps village thrive

China Daily | Updated: 2017-02-27 07:55

 Foreign adviser helps village thrive

Emmanuel Dennis (right), a 54-year-old French adviser to the head of Hehong village committee in Ninghai, Zhejiang province, talks with local villager Xu Xiaohua (middle) earlier in February. Huang Zongzhi / Xinhua

French businessman looks to tourism for future prosperity

NINGBO, ZHEJIANG - Frenchman Emmanuel Dennis, 54, is a busy man. In addition to running two companies, the Ninghai-based businessman has also acted as an adviser to the head of Hehong village committee for the past year. The unpaid job puts him at the forefront of the community's development.

His latest plan is to attract investors to the village, which boasts centuries-old architecture, to manage accommodation and boost tourism.

Last week, he brought 12 investors from the United States, Japan and Taiwan to Hehong, who he said recognized its potential as a tourist destination.

Dennis is active in the village community, having self-financed the construction of a recreational pavilion and organized banquets for the elderly.

Hailing from the southeastern French town of Valence, Dennis worked in finance in the US and the United Kingdom before he first visited China in 1997.

In 2002, he moved to Ninghai with his wife, who was born there, and started a stationery and toy business, which has a turnover of about 100 million yuan ($14.5 million).

Last year, a Ninghai official asked Dennis to help develop the county's rural areas. He chose Hehong because of the many traditional elements that remain in the village.

"When I was in Valence, I lived in a 400-year-old house. When there was heavy rain outside, there was light rain inside. It was old, but beautiful," he said. "My family repaired it with our own hands."

Old buildings should be protected for future generations, Dennis said: "I'm happy that the central government now pays more attention to this."

In recent years, the local government has improved the way it approaches the renovation of villages, and has taken steps to limit damage to the original structures and layout.

"The village is great! Old houses, beautiful landscape," said Henry Zahn, 80, an entrepreneur from the US, who was in the village to look for a building to convert into a hotel.

Another investor, Sun Ningchu from the US, found a renovated courtyard building that he said would be a suitable site for a boutique inn.

Dennis is interested in an old house by the river.

"I want to preserve the appearance of the traditional structure, but the inside will be the same quality as a five-star hotel. It will be a combination of Chinese and Western elements," he said.

In addition, he proposed that villagers run inns for backpackers and that services should be offered to make travel between villages more convenient.

Dennis believes his plan to boost tourism may attract young people to visit the village.

"They can just relax, go fishing, eat local food - just enjoy the slow rural life," he said.


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