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Major expos lead to tourist boom and economic growth

By Zhang Zhouxiang | China Daily | Updated: 2019-05-11 09:32
Different types of peony exhibit at the International Pavilion in the Expo park. [Photo provided to]

My first trip to the 2019 International Horticultural Exhibition in Beijing on May 1 was not particularly a pleasant experience. The venue was chock-a-block and it took me almost three hours-moving at snail's pace in a 1.5-kilometer line-to park my car. Let me do the math: two hours to drive to the exhibition, three hours to park the car and five hours to spend at the exhibition-a 50 percent efficiency rate-not enough to appreciate the plants intertwined with the installations at the China Pavilion, play with the tulips at the Dutch Garden and admire the other exhibits; in short, to take in the atmosphere of the exhibition.

The situation was much better when I visited the exhibition again on Wednesday. It was still crowded but definitely there were fewer people than on May 1-and the line at the parking lot was not that long.

Perhaps the following data can partly explain the difference. According to a domestic travel agency report, Beijing is one of the 10 hottest tourist destinations during the May Day holiday, and the horticultural exhibition was on the must-visit list of many tourists.

During the holiday, 11 parks and museums in Beijing received about 2.44 million visitors, 320,000 of whom made their way to the horticultural exhibition. Which means the exhibition was overcrowded during the holiday because it received tourists from across the country, and their number dropped after Sunday.

Tourists' flow to Beijing reached its peak in 2008 when it hosted the 2008 Olympic Games, and to Shanghai in 2010 when it hosted the 2010 World Expo. Major international events greatly benefit the tourism sector of the host cities, no matter their size, both in the short and long term.

For instance, Wuzhen, a small town in Zhejiang province, used to attract on average 2 million visitors a year in the 2000s, but the number increased to 8 million in 2015, the year after it hosted the first World Internet Conference in November 2014. Wuzhen has already become one of the hottest tourist destinations in the province, even the region.

Thanks to the 2019 International Horticultural Exhibition, China has become the only developing country to host the exhibition thrice. Kunming, Yunnan province, hosted the exhibition in 1999 and Shenyang, Liaoning province, in 2006.

Since host cities are known to preserve some of the exhibition venues, they become permanent tourist sites which continue to attract visitors long after the conclusion of the events. The National Stadium (Bird's Nest) and Aquatics Center (Water Cube) in Beijing, and the Expo Museum in Shanghai, for example, are still on the must-see lists of visitors to the two cities.

Moreover, the horticultural exhibition centers in both Kunming and Shenyang are popular tourist attractions even today. And both cities' economic growth increased after they hosted the exhibition thanks in part to the rising number of tourists they received in the following years. This is especially good news for Shenyang, known for its heavy industries until the early 2000s, because tourism has become one of the main supporting pillars of its economy.

The authorities should keep such facts in mind when they take measures to promote tourism and boost domestic consumption. Some major events, if planned and held successfully, can help the host cities build new scenic spots and make their development eco-friendly.

Yet the majority of the cities that host major events are metropolises such as Beijing and Shanghai. Let us hope the authorities would arrange for smaller cities and towns, such as Wuzhen, to host international events so tourists can get a greater choice of sites and cities can cash in on the tourism boom to boost their economies, and thus fulfill the central leadership's call for economic restructuring...

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