Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region is poised to become a major tourist destination for Chinese and international sightseers, walking out of the shadows cast by the deadly riots that occurred there in 2009, officials said Thursday.
Last year, Xinjiang reported a record 30 million tourist arrivals, including at least 1 million international tourists, according to Zhang Chunxian, secretary of the Xinjiang regional committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC)l.
At a regional tourism industry development summit in Urumqi, Zhang said Xinjiang's tourism revenues topped 30 billion yuan (about 4.6 billion U.S. dollars) last year, an all-time high for the region.
"This is an inspiring message against the backdrop of the riots that broke out in Urumqi in July 2009, and the international financial crisis," said Zhang.
Shao Qiwei, head of the China National Tourism Administration, said that he has also noticed the recovery of the region's tourism industry.
"When I was in Urumqi this time last year, I saw very few tourists and not a single coach bus near the International Grand Bazaar," he said. "Now, I see huge crowds of tourists flooding the bazaar."
The bazaar is a landmark in Urumqi and a top destination for tourists.
The July 5 riots in the Xinjiang regional capital of Urumqi left 197 people dead and more than 1,700 injured.
Shortly after the riots, industry insiders predicted Xinjiang's tourism industry would need three to five years to recover, said Shao. "It's amazing how fast it's shaking off the shadow," he said.
Starting in May 2010, a total of 19 inland provinces began providing aid to boost Xinjiang's development. The central government has also reduced taxes for travel companies that operate routes to Xinjiang.
"My fellow travelers from Australia traveled along the ancient Silk Road from Xi'an to Urumqi, and we were deeply impressed with Xinjiang's beautiful landscape," said Helen Zhou, an overseas Chinese tourist.
Tourism is playing a crucial role in the projected "leapfrog development" of the far western region.
In Buerjin County, home to the region's renowned Kanas Lake, tourism revenues account for 43 percent of the local GDP, according to Gao Zhimin, the county's top official.
By the end of 2015, Xinjiang plans to host at least 80 million tourists annually. The tourism industry is predicted to generate 100 billion yuan in revenues and create 2 million jobs, according to the region's overall development plan for the next five years.