China is indeed on course to becoming a tourism hotspot, as the country continues to open up to foreign visitors. In 2007, China welcomed more than 132 million international guests, an increase of over five percent on the previous year.
Thanks to the Olympics, Beijing is currently the world’s focus. However, other destinations in China tend to stand out and are getting their fair share of the limelight. For instance, Hangzhou, a destination just outside Beijing, is receiving a great deal of attention.
Hangzhou is located south of the Yangtze River Delta on China’s east coast and is the capital of Zhejiang province – once famed as the southern terminal of Beijing. Nowadays, the city is better known by those outside China as the southern neighbor of Shanghai, as it is just two hours and 150 kilometers by train or 180 kilometers driving on the highway.
Dubbed the “Oriental capital of leisure” or “the City of Quality Life,” Hangzhou is a time-honored cultural city famed for its tea, silk and beautiful scenery. Located on the southern part of the Yangtze, this modern, diversified city is known to be China’s most beautiful. As an ancient Chinese proverb puts it: “There is paradise above and Suzhou and Hangzhou below,” while Venetian explorer Marco Polo described it as the finest and noblest city in the world. Arabian traveler Ibn Battuta visited Hangzhou in the 14th century and praised it as the most beautiful, busy and magical city on earth.
In February 2007, it was awarded China’s best tourism city by the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) and the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), according to Li Hong, director of the Hangzhou Tourism Commission. Beginning this 2008, Hangzhou has been named the Golden City of International Tourism and one of the top ten leisure cities in China, having become the destination of choice for both domestic and international tourists. It draws on average more than 41.1 million Chinese visitors every year and over two million overseas tourists.
The metropolis spans some 3000 square meters, has 4.7 million residents, while the Great Hangzhou region covers a total area of 16,596 square kilometers housing 6.72 million residents.
Hangzhou is among the first group of cities designated by the state council of China as a historical and cultural city. With a history of civilization more than 8,000 years old, the city was founded about 2,229 years ago. The celebrated Liangzhy culture which is 5,000 years old is now considered the Dawn of Oriental Culture. Twice, Hangzhou has been made the ancient capital of the Wuyue Kingdom and the South Song Dynasty, making the city veritably one of the seven ancient capitals of China. Moreover, it is historically recognized as the city of silk since the Silk Road once originated here.
As the city continues to evolve, it has proven it is one of the strongest economic power of China. Hangzhou ranks second among the country’s provincial capitals, second to Guangzhou in Canton with traditional industries continuing to flourish. With the emergence of new industries such as IT, e-commerce and manufacturing for export only, it has brought a new wave of wealth to the city locals, said Xiao Han, deputy chief of marketing, Hangzhou Tourism Commission.
According to Li Hong, in the nearby counties of Hangzhou are other tourism destinations vying for sports tourism – such as Qiantang River, Fuchun River, Xin’an River and the Thousand Islet Lake. In the area, visitors can try high-quality tourist packages such as yachting, golf and hiking.
The MICE industry in Hangzhou remains fairly competitive, ranking the city 5th among 43 most competitive cities nationwide. According to the China Xinhua News Agency, the potential for the convention and exhibition industry in China attracts attention from international exhibition giants. China is facing an unprecedented opportunity for development. “In Hangzhou, the first West Lake Expo opened on June 6, 1929 lasting for 137 days. Over 14,140 products were showcased, attracting 20 M visitors to the show. The expo was an exceptionally grand occasion, showing great influence on the world. Since the West Lake Expo resumed in 2000 and staged in Hangzhou for eight consecutive years, Hangzhou has experienced tremendous growth,” said Ye Min, vice secretary general for Hangzhou Municipal People’s Government, Hangzhou Municipal office for Coordinating the Development of Convention and Exhibition Industry.
In 2007, Hangzhou’s convened 5,000 conferences including 136 international fairs; exhibition area totalled 1.02 M square meters with more than 20 percent of the stalls booked by companies from abroad. “The West Lake Expo included 34 festival events, welcoming a total of 6.55 M visitors at the event. Throughout the year, the turnover of the convention and exhibition industry totalled 358 M RMB yuan. Hangzhou has become a convention and exhibition center with the most potential for China,” said Ye. This October, the 10th West Lake Expo opens its doors to guests from all over the world, planning to surpass last year’s numbers while riding on the tailwinds and freshness of the Olympics.
Li said: “ Hangzhou aims to be an international leisure and tourism destination with investments on village/ mountain/ riverside resorts, leisure sports, renovations of old streets and health cultivation promoted by the city. There are over 300 four to five-star hotels. Air connections have been opened too for more than 40 routes from Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport with direct links with Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul, Pusan, Bangkok, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing and other major cities within China.”
Both local government and private sectors have spent billions of dollars in the last five years in the area of city restoration and in preserving its history and natural wonders. “While maintaining its original flavor, a brand new Hangzhou now re-shapes its completely fresh image in this modern era. Our vision is to build Hangzhou into an internationally competitive tourism destination and an oriental capital of leisure. We are proud of what we have achieved, however, we believe it is still far from being enough,” said Li.