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Birthplace of China’s modern mass tourism

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Visitors watch sunrise and clouds on the Huangshan Mountain in east China’s Anhui Province, Dec 31, 2018. Xinhua

HEFEI (Xinhua) – A train goes between rocky cliffs, up into the clouds and emerges on the other side with a view of mountain peaks shrouded by white clouds. Such video clips about Mount Huangshan as above have captivated millions on Chinese social media.

Mount Huangshan in east China’s Anhui Province, with its imposing scenery and vast number of works of art and literature inspired by it, has won an entry on the UNESCO World Heritage List for cultural value and natural scenery. It, however, has another lesser known role – the place where China’s modern mass tourism took off 40 years ago.

In July 1979, the then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping paid a visit to the mountain at the age of 75, where he called for all-out efforts to accelerate the nation’s tourism development in a number of speeches during the visit.

Today, tourism has become one of China’s important economic drivers. About 5.5 billion trips were made in China in 2018, contributing nearly 10 trillion yuan (1.45 trillion U.S. dollars) to the country’s GDP, or 11 percent, according to statistics given by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

More than 3.3 million people visited Mount Huangshan in 2018. Forty years ago, the number was around 100,000. Over the years, the government has been improving services, infrastructure, as well as protection of the site.

In the late 1970s, China was at the beginning of its reform and opening-up. Tourism was still a new sector in the country. Many locals didn’t see the tourism value of this mountain. Some even took it as a kind of obstacle since it hindered agricultural activity.

Pan Meili, manager of a local four-star hotel, was born in 1969 in a small village at the foot of Mount Huangshan, where all people used to make a living on farming.

After 1979, the villagers started to realize the economic benefits of tourism as more tourists came. Pan’s parents also saw the potential of tourism and opened a family hotel.

“There were only three rooms in the family hotel which could accommodate at most 10 guests,” said Pan.

Tourism gradually replaced farming in the village to be the main source of income. In the 1980s, almost everyone in the village was doing something related to tourism, such as running hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, or working as tour guides.

“We are contributors as well as beneficiaries of tourism associated with Mount Huangshan,” Pan said.

With more and more tourists, the administration for Mount Huangshan has rolled out a series of policies to strike a balance between tourism promotion and conservation, such as introducing a cap on the daily tourist number at 50,000.

“More tourists mean more money, but we can’t be greedy. We’re pursuing sustainable development,” said Ge Xufang with Mount Huangshan scenic area management committee.

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