Sichuan travel industry struggles for revival after quake

Southwest China’s Sichuan Province is endeavoring to revive its travel industry, with the former “paradise for tourists” struggling after last month’s powerful earthquake.

“The single most important thing to do now is to rebuild tourists’ confidence and we are taking measures to do so,” said Zhang Gu, head of the Sichuan Provincial Tourism Bureau.

Measures to attract visitors include free admission to tourist sites, expanded air service and reduced prices for hotels and transportation.

The quake-battered province re-opened 13 cities and prefectures to tourists last week in a move to revive its travel industry.

Of more than 4,000 scenic areas in Sichuan, 568 were damaged inthe earthquake. Losses have been put at 27.84 billion yuan (4.03 billion U.S. dollars), according to the bureau.

Tourism revenue in Sichuan was 121.7 billion yuan in 2007, accounting for 11.6 percent of the province’s gross domestic product. More than 400,000 people work in the industry

Zhang said the Dujiangyan scenic spot, one of the world’s first irrigation systems, would be re-opened free of charge for three months after maintenance work was done, in a bid to bring back tourists.

By launching a “Sichuan locals tour Sichuan” campaign, the bureau said it expected tourism in the areas not affected by the quake to show a 20-percent increase in revenues by the end of this year.

Rural tourism was expected to recover next year. The whole industry, including disaster areas, was expected to fully recover in about 2010, Zhang said.

Jiuzhaigou, a resort famous for its natural beauty and good weather, saw tourism plummet after the quake. Roads from Chengdu, the provincial capital, to Jiuzhaigou were severely damaged by the earthquake.

Although this is the tourist season, “we receive only dozens of tourists every day,” compared with 6,000 to 7,000 before the earthquake, said Feng Gang, vice head of the Jiuzhaigou Tourism Bureau.

Lin Jiashui, a senior marketing official in the bureau, said since it would take a long time to restore road traffic, the bureau is working to expand air routes to Jiuzhaigou.

“We are also cooperating with the five-star hotels, airlines and travel agencies to design routes with comparatively low prices, which will help tourism recover in this region,” he added.

While local governments are striving to get tourism back on track, travel agency workers are more optimistic.

“We are expecting more tourists to come to Sichuan in the coming months with a maximum volume in September and October, when a large number of them would fly here,” said Huang Hai, manager of the local Western Holiday Travel Agency.

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