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Special> Focus on Xinjiang> Opinion
UPDATED: July 9, 2009
Unrest Wreaks Havoc on Region's Tourism Industry

The riots in Urumqi that broke out on Sunday have begun to hurt the local tourism industry, with many travelers and tour agencies shunning visits to the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and its surroundings.

"An increasing number of tourists have canceled their Xinjiang-bound tours for safety reasons," Zhang Linjie, deputy manager of the domestic department with the China International Travel Service head office, said yesterday.

Members of the major travel agency's sole tour group in Xinjiang also cut short their trip and returned home safely on Tuesday, he said.

"We have not received any formal notice from the national tourism administration about Xinjiang, but all of our Xinjiang-bound tours will be suspended," he said.

Xinjiang, known among travelers at home and abroad for its rich ethnic diversity and natural scenery, was hit by rioting in its regional capital that killed more than 150 people and left more than 1,000 others injured.

In Shanghai, local tour operator Shanghai CYTS also canceled two Xinjiang-bound tour groups that were scheduled to leave this coming Saturday, an employee said.

"It's difficult to maintain the safety of commuters and visitors in Urumqi. Many travelers have also canceled their tours," said the employee, who did not want to be named.

Yinamu Naisierding, head of the Xinjiang tourism administration, told China Daily over the phone yesterday that the riots have tainted Xinjiang's image in the eyes of tourists across the world.

"Many people have called me since Monday to inquire if Xinjiang is stable and safe to travel," he said.

"But now things are under government control major scenic spots, rail and air transport are actually operating normally," he said.

Security measures at the Urumqi Diwopu International Airport, which has a daily passenger volume of 20,000, have been beefed up since Monday, State broadcaster CCTV reported yesterday.

The authorities have heightened airport security, while police have intensified patrols at terminal buildings and parking lots, the report said.

Still, many see a long road ahead for Xinjiang's tourism sector.

"The riot will certainly hit our tourism," Akbar Kahar, a Turpan tourism official, said over the phone yesterday.

He said the busy season for Xinjiang starts in June and continues to September.

Turpan, widely known as a center of the grape industry, received a record 360,000 tourists in June alone, an increase of 74 percent, he said.

Locals had expected more tourists to come since increased promotions were held to combat the global economic meltdown, but the riot has turned out to be an unexpected dampener on any hope for a revival in business.

"We still hope the effect will be short-lived," Kahar said.

Tourism is one of Xinjiang's pillar industries, with tourism revenue contributing 6.8 percent of the region's GDP last year.

Xinjiang received 22 million domestic tourists and 460,000 overseas tourists last year, official statistics show.

(China Daily July 9, 2009)

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