China / Society

Ningxia launching drive to lure Muslim visitors

By Wang Huazhong in Yinchuan and Su Zhou in Beijing (China Daily) Updated: 2015-09-12 08:25

The inland Ningxia Hui autonomous region, home to China's second-largest group of Muslims, plans to become a destination for overseas Muslim tourists.

It aims to do so by providing more direct flights, simpler visa procedures and a tax refund policy on shopping, a senior tourism official said.

The sixth national census in 2010 showed that the northwestern region - a major stop on the ancient Silk Road - had about 2 million Muslims, following the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region with more than 10 million.

Wan Xuedao, deputy head of the Ningxia Hui autonomous region's tourism administration, said Ningxia aims to become an international tourist destination for Arab countries and Muslims from elsewhere.

It has been granted rights by national aviation authorities to allow foreign airlines to fly passengers and cargo directly to Ningxia or via the region en route to another country. "Only a few cities in China have such rights," Wan said.

With more airlines using these rights and operating international flights to or via Ningxia, the region is expected to attract more tourists, Wan said, adding that the regional government is trying to get approval to offer a 72-hour visa-free transit service for travelers.

Duty-free shops have been set up in the region as part of measures to attract airline transit passengers. Ningxia is also attempting to introduce more favorable tax policies on shopping for overseas tourists, Wan added.

The region is the largest area inhabited by the Hui ethnic group, which numbers 2.32 million, and accounts for one-fifth of the Hui population in China. Tourism is the pillar industry in Ningxia, with its income last year accounting for 5.18 percent of GDP.

Xu Xiaoping, director of the Ningxia tourism authority, said, "The potential for Muslim tourism is huge," adding that Ningxia has an advantage in developing this market.

"Since reform and opening-up, Ningxia has played a positive role as a window to communicate with Arab countries - not to mention our cultural similarities. The customs of the Hui people are similar to those in Muslim countries and regions, which helps greatly with exchanges and cooperation," Xu said.

The 2015 China-Arab States Tour Operators Conference opened in Yinchuan, the autonomous region capital, on Tuesday. Tourism authorities, travel agencies in Ningxia, Arab countries and Malaysia signed a series of agreements to boost bilateral travel.

Under these deals, direct flights will be launched between Yinchuan and Amman, the Jordanian capital, and between Yinchuan and Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.

Xu said that besides upgrading facilities, Ningxia will set a service standard for Muslim tourists, including Muslim culture training and food preparation.

Wang Fuzhong, chairman of the Ningxia Shapotou Tourism Industry Group, said Ningxia is a destination popular with domestic tourists.

"As overseas tourists have different demands from Chinese tourists, who still prefer sightseeing, the regional tourism industry is working to offer a tailored service for overseas visitors," Wang said.

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(China Daily 09/12/2015 page1)

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