Northwest China broadening tourist appeal

2024-07-09 13:19:08China Daily Editor : Zhao Li ECNS App Download

Small cities in Northwest China, with their cooler temperatures and ethnic diversity, have seen significant growth in booking volumes of travel products this summer, with the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region becoming a particularly popular tourism destination.

In the past few years, the period between late June and October has been the peak travel season for Altay in northern Xinjiang. Since the airing of the hit, eight-episode miniseries To the Wonder, Altay has seen a growing number of visitors and is set to attract more travelers.

As of early June, Altay received 2.67 million person-times of travelers, up 80 percent year-on-year, and the region achieved a tourism revenue of 2.2 billion yuan ($303 million), surging 93 percent year-on-year, data from the local cultural and tourism department showed.

Besides, hotel bookings in Northwest China's small cities such as Zhangye, Jiayuguan, and Jiuquan in Gansu province have increased by more than 40 percent year-on-year this summer, higher than the growth rates seen in major cities, according to Beijing-based online travel agency Qunar.

"This summer, more domestic airlines are operating regional flights from major cities to small cities. It has helped tourists save travel time and has further driven the summer tourism consumption boom of small cities in Northwest China," said Xiao Peng, a researcher with the big data research institute of Qunar.

In July and August, bookings of flights from major Chinese cities to more than 40 small ones in Northwest China have jumped over 60 percent year-on-year, and carriers have increased flight frequencies for routes connecting Northwest China, Qunar said.

Qunar recently reached an agreement with Guangzhou-based 9Air, a low-budget airline, to give complimentary flight tickets to college students in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, for destinations such as Zhangye and Jiayuguan.

"We hope to help more young people have the opportunity to explore those small cities in China, and we will continue to give away complimentary flight tickets to students," said Ren Fen, vice-president of Qunar.

In recent years, more domestic flights have been launched to connect small and major cities, further driving the popularity of tourism markets in regions such as Northwest China. Now, travelers can easily arrive at some scenic spots with direct flights to their nearby small cities, as opposed to long road journeys earlier.

For instance, Zhangye Ganzhou Airport, a small airport in Gansu, handles flights operated by seven carriers. These flights connect Zhangye with major cities such as Shanghai; Xi'an, Shaanxi province; Lanzhou, Gansu; and Chengdu, Sichuan province. In January, a direct flight connecting Beijing and Zhangye was launched.

Jiayuguan Jiuquan Airport, another small airport in Gansu, has seen eight carriers launch 16 routes, connecting Jiayuguan with major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Xi'an. In the first half of this year, the booking volumes of flights from major domestic cities to Jiayuguan surged nearly 180 percent year-on-year, Qunar found.

Unlike busy major airports, over 70 percent of small airports operate an average of one flight daily. Yet, those regional flights have been playing an important role in enhancing connections between major cities and small cities in China, Qunar said.

In the domestic air travel market, smaller carriers operate more regional flights to compete with major carriers. This summer, 9Air launched new flights connecting Guangzhou with Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, as well as Jieyang, Guangdong, and Turpan in Xinjiang.

Among State-owned carriers, Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines and Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines account for relatively higher market shares in the regional aviation market in China.

This summer, China Southern plans to increase flight frequencies on more than 100 routes, and launch new flights that connect Altay with cities such as Shanghai; Shenzhen, Guangdong; Wuhan, Hubei province; Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui autonomous region; and Harbin, Heilongjiang province, bringing the total number of routes connecting other cities with Altay to 10 nationwide and 52 flights per week.

A herdsman prepares a donkey for arriving tourists to photograph in Altay, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, on July 1. [XIA SHIYAN/FOR CHINA DAILY]

China Southern also operates three routes within Xinjiang. The carrier said it plans to launch more themed flights to Altay and enable more passengers to experience the ethnic minority culture and local customs on the planes.

Themed flights include the offering of special food such as cheese and sea buck-thorn juice, with flight attendants in ethnic clothing interacting with passengers in some interesting question and answer sessions. The cabin is also decorated with elements of the series of To the Wonder, China Southern said.

Teng Congcong, director of To the Wonder, said she directed the series with a female perspective and delicate emotional expressions, and it has showcased the spirit of northern Xinjiang herders. She expects that Xinjiang, a place with a magnificent landscape, will attract more travelers.

By 2035, the average number of flights taken per person annually and the number of people who have experienced taking flights are expected to double over levels seen in 2019, according to a plan by the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

Since last year, a number of small cities in China, such as Zibo in Shandong province and Tianshui in Gansu, have become popular tourism destinations with their delicious barbecues and malatang, or spicy hot pot, and more county-level cities are starting to focus on developing their cultural and tourism markets.

"With increased travel demand to small cities and the growth of local spending power, it is estimated that the number of regional flights that connect major cities and small cities will be further increased," Xiao of Qunar said.

"Such flights will allow more people who have never taken flights to have the opportunity, and enable people who live in major cities to visit more smaller cities," he added.

Meanwhile, domestic companies have increased efforts to build more high-quality accommodation in Northwest China.

China's largest online travel agency Group and the Nalati scenic area in Xinjiang together built a rural resort in Altay, which started operating in late June. This is the seventh rural resort built by in Xinjiang.

The rural resort, located 10 kilometers from a top-level ski resort, is surrounded by rivers, mountains and grasslands, and is expected to help upgrade the quality of local accommodations, the travel agency said.

So far, has launched 31 rural resorts nationwide, and local employees account for 80 percent of the staff members. Thus, it has helped increase the per capita annual income of rural areas by more than 40,000 yuan.

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