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China inaugurates national tourism day, hopes to fuel tourism boom

Source:   Time:

BEIJING, May 19 (Xinhua) -- Hundreds of travellers walked up the stone path of Tiantai Mountain, following the steps of a famed travel writer who set foot there on the same day 398 years ago, as part of Thursday's debut ceremony for China's National Tourism Day.

The government announced last month that the newly established tourism day will fall on May 19 each year, the date when Xu Xiake started writing his famous travel books.

Nearly 400 years ago, Xu Xiake, dubbed the "Saint of Travel" in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), began his 30 years of travel through the country and penned his masterpiece, "Travel Notes of Xu Xiake," which mapped out a well-defined geography of the country and highlighted its remarkable sights and attractions.

The first stop of Xu's journey was the Buddhist mountain of Tiantai in east China's Zhejiang Province, about 200 km from Shanghai.

On Thursday, drums, dragon dances, and recitations of Xu's travel logs by 519 local students were performed on the mountain, creating a festive atmosphere to celebrate the milestone in the history of tourism in China.

Many believe China's decision to mark the day reflects the growing importance of tourism in the country's ongoing economic restructuring.

Tourism is among the least energy-consuming and polluting industries, which is in line with China's major task for the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to transfer its economy from high resource-consuming to environmental-friendly, said Wei Jie, a professor with Tsinghua University.

Meanwhile, the industry can use the massive labor force no longer needed by industries that have gone through technology-driven transformations, he said.

According to a report from the United Nations World Tourism Organization, tourism can drive growth in as many as 110 sectors, including food, hotel and transportation.

China's tourism industry has developed rapidly over recent years, as the growing economy has resulted in more people being able to take holidays, according to Mao Peiqi, a professor with Beijing-based Renmin University of China.

Tourism revenues rose 20 percent year-on-year to 1.55 trillion yuan (about 238 billion U.S. dollars) in 2010. Domestic trips jumped 11 percent to 2.1 billion, while inbound trips increased 6 percent to 134 million, making China the third largest tourism destination in the world, according to data from the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA).

Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan said last month that the country will strive to develop tourism into a strategic pillar industry during this five-year plan period.

CNTA expects inbound trips to reach 3.3 billion by 2015.

China is hoping the establishment of National Tourism Day will support tourist initiatives and, subsequently, boost tourism, CNTA spokesman Zhu Shanzhong said.

Zhu said that the day will help raise awareness of the importance of travelling, revive people's desire to travel and create a better environment for tourism.

Tourists from China and abroad can enjoy free entry to the country's wealth of scenic spots, public museums, memorial halls and patriotic education bases on and around the annual tourism day.

In the tropical island of Hainan, where China has just implemented a tax rebate program for tourists, free tickets and discount coupons will be distributed along the west coast of the island province.

Entrance fees for all scenic spots in north China's Shanxi Province are half-price on Thursday.

Eighty-seven out of the 125 scenic spots were free of charge in central China's Hubei Province Thursday, said Zhang Dahua, head of the provincial Tourism Administration, and local restaurants and hotels also offered discounts.

Besides the attractive discounts, according to CNTA, over 390 activities will be held across the nation on or around May 19, including folk art performances, travel book sales, photo exhibitions and flower festivals.

In Beijing, the government held a celebration ceremony Thursday morning in the Temple of Heaven, where ancient emperors prayed to heaven for the harvest.

This year's tourism day theme is "Gain knowledge from thousands of books and accumulate experience by traveling thousands of miles."

In response to the theme, more than 3,000 travellers in east China's Shandong Province will climb the sacred Mount Tai Thursday, to experience its culture associated with sunrise, birth and renewal.

In north China's Hebei Province, home to many of the country's scenic spots for "red tourism," a series of activities following the theme "Red Memories" will start on Thursday and run through October.

In central China's Hunan Provine, the preservation and development project of the 600-year old Hongjiang Ancient Commercial Town, which covers 300,000 square meters and features 380 old buildings, kicks off Thursday in a bid to regain its past glory and attract tourists.

Despite the abundance of discounts and activities, it is still a working day for most people in China. Some hope it could be a holiday in future to give people time to actually travel.

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