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The incredible ambitions of Beijing tourism

Luc Citrinot, eTN  Apr 11, 2011

BEIJING, China (eTN) - Hosting the prestigious PATA 60th Anniversary Conference gives to Beijing a new opportunity to show how sophisticated China’s capital city has become over the last decade. By hosting some 1,000 delegates for the PATA event – including some 35 diplomats and high-ranking politicians - Beijing took the opportunity to highlight its willingness to become a world-class city, rivaling Shanghai, the Chinese metropolis most foreign visitors would probably consider as a world-class destination today. Beijing Municipality Vice Mayor Ding Xiangyang shared with a few selected media his vision about tourism development in the Chinese capital.

Beijing tourism holds, in fact, a few records. It is already China’s most-visited destination. Tourists come to Beijing attracted by its wealth of history, its numerous monuments, and its culture. Numbers are impressive. Last year, Beijing recorded some 140 million tourists, including close to 5 million international travelers. Another record was reached with revenues generated by tourism. According to the Vice Mayor, tourism generated last year RMB 276.8 billion in revenues for the city GDP (US$42.33 billion). This would represent an average spending of US$303 per capita.

But Beijing ambitions do not stop there. Beijing now targets to double the number of international travelers before the end of the decade. And to become a world-class destination, both the Central Government and the Municipality of Beijing do not hesitate to inject large amounts of money into tourism. Beijing's budget for tourism promotion is most probably the highest in the world, referring to numbers communicated by Vice Mayor Ding Xiangyang: “We have a budget of RMB 1 billion [US$152.9 million] per year just for the promotion of tourism, which excludes other relevant agencies such as the Development Commission for Infrastructure. By then, I estimate that we would then reach a total budget of some RMB 7 billion to improve tourism [US$1.7 billion],” he explained.

With such a colossal budget, Beijing wants to capitalize on the recognition it gained around the world from hosting the Olympic Summer Games in 2008. “We have a very scientific approach for the development of tourism. We elaborate a 12-year master plan to turn our capital into a global city with Chinese characteristics."

Although the Vice Mayor did not elaborate over the use of Olympic facilities today, he remains extremely positive about the event itself. “It really gave [us] the worldwide exposure we wanted. Strategically, it helped us to improve our infrastructure but also the quality of services that international travelers could expect,” he added. Beijing wants to retain its cultural image but also become a technology-driven capital with a commitment to green tourism. Environment-friendly tourism requesting low energy is also now being promoted. “We are particularly keen at promoting rural tourism. We propose already 8 rural tours within the city’s boundaries,” highlighted the Vice Mayor. Biking trails have been created all around the city with free renting bikes available. “However, they are still in insufficient numbers and few tourists know about this service we offer,” acknowledged Mr. Xiangyang.

Emphasis is also given to improve education and service skills, public infrastructure, and safety for travelers. “For example, we have 66 information counters all across the city for visitors. And we recently improved our website, providing information in five different languages. We are now looking at adding more languages in a very near future,” told Ding Xiangyang. The Vice Mayor recognizes that the city must continue to work hard to improve foreign language skills. “We clearly did not reach yet satisfactory standards,” he recognized.

But Beijing is keen to learn from other world metropolises. According to the Vice Mayor, the municipality is now looking at signing official partnerships with other large metropolises around the world to share experiences and their vision of tourism. “We must learn from other sophisticated metropolis[es] such as Paris or New York to understand how they became successful destinations," he said.

Ding Xiangyang even announced that Beijing is currently studying the establishment of representative offices. Cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, San Francisco, or New York already have – or had - a network of representative offices abroad. Coincidence or not, the first cities the Vice Mayor is thinking of for its representative offices are Hong Kong, New York, and Paris. “No decision has been taken yet, but we would like to be present in all major metropolises in the future,” explained the Vice Mayor. Such huge ambitions combined with a strong will from officials are likely to make many cities around the world dreaming of being Beijing.

The incredible ambitions of Beijing tourism
Beijing Vice Mayor Ding Xiangyang, in charge of tourism development / Photo by L. Citrinot

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