How can we draw more from tourism
By You Nuo (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-10-15 07:39

The National Day holiday saw another parade, which may not have been as smooth as the one in Beijing on Oct 1, but was equally, if not more, important. It showed the strength of China's economy and how much money it can generate from its everyday life to pay for its defense systems and colorful publicity campaigns.

Few academics have really done research on the costs and benefits a holiday week (it was for eight days this year) can bring to a country of 1.3 billion people. But at least, we have seen part of the result. With the development of the economy, and with more people moving or migrating to cities, a long holiday (Spring Festival is another weeklong holiday) is the time of "gushing" (to use the term of the Chinese press) tourist demand.

During the just-concluded holiday week, domestic tourists took an estimated 200 million trips, while millions of wealthier residents (mainly from large cities and coastal areas) traveled to Hong Kong and Taiwan. Many visited foreign countries, too.

Chinese websites reported yesterday that the domestic services sector generated revenue of at least 100 billion yuan ($14.63 billion) during the holiday. This is an under-estimated figure.

If the average cost for a trip can be 2,000 yuan, aided by the Chinese travelers' spending overseas, including air or rail tickets, and sightseeing and hotel expenses, the figure could run up to 400 billion yuan, enough to cross China's GDP in 1978, the first year of reform.

But compared to our population of 1.3 billion, 200 million trips are nothing to be proud of. Despite all the expressways we have built and are building fervently to mitigate the impact of the global financial crisis, we still are a long way from being called a tourist-friendly country.

The holiday week, called the "Golden Week" for tourism, is not conducive for either the elderly or the very young to travel because all the sectors are busy trying to cope with the crushing demand for just regular services. It is even less convenient for the physically challenged to venture out of their cities, towns and villagers.

In many places, local governments have done little or no planning to cash in on potential opportunities.

For example, none of the smaller cities around Beijing and Tianjin, cities with one of China's largest tourist groups, has launched an effective marketing campaign to promote its own attractions and facilities.

As China's most important coal-producing province, Shanxi saw the worst drop in GDP growth earlier this year because of the nationwide fall in demand for energy caused by the global financial crisis. So it should have tried to generate revenue from tourism, which it failed.

It's a pity, especially because Shanxi has some wonderful tourist spots and its new highway system, built primarily to transport coal, makes it easily accessible from Beijing and Tianjin within a day. Much of the province offers a natural contrast to the coastal urban areas - the beautiful Taihang and Luliang mountains, old Buddhist temples, historical sites from the revolutionary era, and the food.

In fact, when on the afternoon of Oct 2 my family drove to Matian, a village where the famed Eighth Group Army had its headquarters during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, I saw just a couple of cars in the parking lot. More surprise was in store as we found out only part of the museum was open, with some administrators, who I guess were supposed to be on duty, playing mahjong.

Many historical sites and potentially important tourist attractions are poorly maintained in Shanxi. This shows why the province's economy is imbalanced.

Of course, the province deserves to be proud for being the country's largest coal supplier. But it seems that its single-minded pursuit of coal-based economic growth has polluted not only the environment, but also the mindset of its officials. That in turn has cast a polluted shadow over the province's otherwise colorful economic future.

E-mail: younuo@chinadaily.com.cn