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Village in forest rediscovers joy as tourists return

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2020-11-02 11:10:52China Daily Editor : Mo Hong'e ECNS App Download

A screenshot from Xinhua shows Xihewan scenic resort in Henan province. (Photo/Xinhua)

As soon as the eight-day National Day holiday started early last month, my smartphone screen started getting inundated with tourism-related messages and images.

And every time I checked my contacts' "Moments" on WeChat for latest personal updates, I found more such content.

What a transformation from the scene just a few months ago! Back then, posts were mostly about COVID-19 worries and concerns. Some bemoaned the epidemic's impact on the tourism industry. Now, however, most online posts are upbeat about the industry's outlook.

In recent weeks, as I traveled for interviews for China Daily's special Xiaokangseries on the building of a moderately prosperous society in the country, about 20 tourism industry-related people from across China became my WeChat contacts.

Zhang Yimou is one of them. He is the director of the management committee of Xihewan scenic resort in Henan province. About half of the time of my one-hour interview with him in June was taken up by his concerns about the pandemic and his thoughts on how to stave off the COVID-19 impact on tourism in the Xihewan scenic resort area.

Once an impoverished village located on the Lion Mountain in Henan province, the area has turned into a tourism hot spot after years of efforts of Zhang and his team. He came to Xihewan in 2014.

"You probably won't believe what this place looked like when I first came to the village. I saw shabby houses and broken walls of pigsty and firewood sheds. The river banks were all covered with bushes and silt. There were neither phone signals nor roads to the outside of the mountain. At that time the whole village had only 39 people, mainly children and the elderly, as most of the adults were working in bigger cities where wages were much higher," said Zhang.

Soon after reaching Xihewan, Zhang launched a mission of sorts to transform the area. He began lobbying Xihewan-born adults who ran successful businesses in other cities, and local government departments, for funds to improve infrastructure and signal coverage.

From 2014 to date, Xihewan has attracted over 70 million yuan ($10.4 million) in investment, thanks to the efforts of Zhang and his team.

Today, the village has a brand new look. You could say it's a village in a forest ringed by creeks, and crowded with houses well-decorated in ancient Chinese style and furnished with modern appliances. All this has made Xihewan a popular destination for tourists across China.

Just when tourism in Xihewan started to boom, COVID-19 struck. "We are thinking of ways of attracting tourists and helping local tourism-related businesses to survive the pandemic. It's getting better now compared with February and March, but we are expecting further recovery. I hope that would come soon, but we clearly know there are too many uncertainties due to the pandemic," Zhang said during my interview.

A few months on, Zhang and his team seem to have turned the corner for Xihewan, if his recent WeChat messages are any indication.

His post on Oct 2 read: "A total of 371 beds from homestay service providers in Xihewan scenic resort were all booked from Oct 1 to 6.There were crowds of visitors to agritainment businesses on a daily basis. Although total visits to Xihewan dropped 30 percent compared with the same period last year, many tourism-related business owners saw their revenue grow."

He followed that up with an update on Oct 15: "We have gone through all the challenges and tasted the 'bitterness' (of a downturn), and we are (now) confident to embrace a bright outlook and (ready to) taste the 'sweetness' (of an expected rebound in business)."

I'm very happy for Zhang!

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