On July 30, were inaugurated the 4th Silk Road (Dunhuang) International Cultural Expo and 9th Dunhuang Tour-Silk Road International Tourism Festival in Gansu. The expo and festival will end in September 5. These are major events for the culture and tourism industry.
The objective of the the Silk Road International Cultural Expo is to strenghten cooperation among “Belt and Road” participating countries on cultural affairs. The main theme of the 4th Silk road International Cultural Expo was “Prosperity over poverty: Culture and Tourism for New Vitality of Silk Road”. Hundred of attendees from more than 30 countries took part in the expo and festival with speakers from UNESCO, World Trade Organization and World Tourism Organization and discussed possible mecanisms to boost tourisme and alleviate poverty in Asia and elsewhere.
The boom of tourism in Asia and especialy the surge of Chinese tourisms aborad may create tourism opportunities in many Asian sites that are located along the old silk roads.
Tourism industry in Gansu
Gansu has long served as a crossroads between China and Central Asia along the ancient Silk Roads. The province’s goal is to revive this vocation and enhance its heritage through the construction of the “Belt and Road Initiative”. Gansu Province offers unique landscapes made of deserts and oases such as Mingshashan National Park, but also cultural and historical sites such as Mount Maji Caves and UNESCO Mogao grottoes.
This unique heritage attracts more and more visitors to Gansu. The influx of tourists has allowed some of Gansu’s most rural regions to experience a new dynamism, as in Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in southwestern Gansu; local population has achieved a better standard of living while preserving their traditions. Gansu tourism revenues in the first half of 2019 grew by almost 25%.
Gansu is among the poorest provinces in China, with the lowest GDP per capita in China. Its environment does not allow optimal agriculture and its industry has suffered greatly from the closure of state enterprises in the 1990s. According to a World Bank document, Gansu is currently developing the service industry and tourism is part of this trend. From 2010 to 2015, revenues from the tourism industry had more than doubled.
4th Silk Road (Dunhuang) International Cultural Expo’s Prosperity over poverty theme matches with Gansu’s “Poverty Alleviation through Tourism” provincial program. This one consists partly in promoting rural tourism by offering microcredits to the poorest comunities. Gansu province has set some ambitious targets to reduce poverty through tourism. According to Chinese authorities, in 2018, 5.8 million people were taken out of poverty in rural Gansu since the late 80’s. But Gansu provincial government knows that more has to be achieved to continue to reduce poverty and offer a better environment to inhabitants and tourists alike.
Environmental protection is another aspect of the development programme promoted by Gansu province. In this water-scarce region, more efforts have to be done to optimize resources. It was no coincidence that President Xi Jiping called for continuing ecological efforts during his visit to Gansu this month.
Tourism in Central Asia
Central Asia and Gansu share similar challenges regarding tourism as many Central Asian countries do also offer Silk road heritage sites to visitors. Some of the experiences conducted in Gansu can be replicated in Central Asia to open the most secluded regions to visitors and reduce rural poverty.
Central Asian countries are to introduce a Silk Road visa that will enable foreign visitors to visit most of Central Asian countries. This may boost Chinese outbound tourism in this region.
But to host new visitors, Central Asian countries will need to develop a wide-range of accomodations and facilities to offer the best experience to visitors, and they can learn a lot from what was done in Gansu.
Opportunities for European companies
Rural tourism is not new in Europe and many regions have developed local projects to promote tourism in places that had suffered from desindustrialisation. There have been strong interactions between local governments and SMEs to develop rural tourism projects that would benefi local communities.
Inclusive tourism development in both Gansu and central Asia may create new opportunities for European companies that have some experience in this sector.
Hopefully more Europeans will attend the next Silk Road (Dunhuang) International Cultural Expo.