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China's Xinjiang, Charming Tourist Destination

When Enid Schildkrout visited the grasslands in the northern part of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, northwest China, she described her tour of the region, which is situated along the ancient "Silk Road", as pleasant.

It is a very interesting journey, said Schildkrout, chair and curator of the Anthropology Division of the American Museum of Nature History of New York City, adding she had seen the most beautiful scenery in Xinjiang.

She watched horse-racing and other performances with typical ethnic flavor during her travels.

Schildkrout said what has impressed her was that everything was well organized and she truly felt the relaxing and carefree lives of local people.

Covering one-sixth of China's total land area, Xinjiang is best known for its situation along the "Silk Road", the well-known ancient trade route linking China and central Asia. It also has many well-known tourist attractions including relics of ancient cities, unique natural scenic reserves and people from ethnic groups with colorful cultures.

Sajjad Shah, a Japanese visitor, said until he came to Xinjiang he was always looking for a place of mystery and magic, but now he has found it.

Xinjiang could become one of the major tourist destinations in Asia, because it has rich resources for tourism and good tourist facilities, said Sajjad Shah, a wholesaler from the COX & KINGS company, a travel agency in Japan. The travel agency was set up in1758 and takes tourists to many countries and regions around the world.

Tourism, a pillar industry of Xinjiang

Xinjiang has officially begun a campaign to make tourism one of its key industries over the next 10 years.

According to predictions, tourism in the region is expected to make up 10 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) by 2010, a record high, said Zhang Zhou, vice-chairman of the regional government.

Last year, the region's GDP totaled 148.5 billion yuan (17.5 billion US dollars), and tourism industry contributed 5 percent of this.

Around 8.5 million domestic tourists visited Xinjiang last year,bringing a total of 7.18 billion yuan (867.1 million US dollars) in tourism revenue, while 273,000 overseas tourists visited, 44.5 percent more than five years ago, according to statistics from the region's tourism bureau.

A recent tourism festival in the region, co-hosted by the National Tourism Administration and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Regional Government, attracted about 3,000 visitors and more than 200 travel agencies from home and abroad.

Participants used words like "incomparable", "typical" and "something that has been long dreamed of" to describe Xinjiang's natural scenery, local conditions and customs.

Phuthorn from Thailand said he had never seen any natural scenery as splendid as Taklimakan, the largest shifting desert in China and the second largest in the world. He said he was startled to see so many poplar trees growing in such dry areas.

Phuthorn said there are many experts in Thailand studying the oasis culture along the "Silk Road", and he would introduce them to Xinjiang in the future.

Wang Jinxiang, the region's vice-chairman in charge of local economic work, said the region is intensifying its efforts to build a tourism infrastructure, protect the local environment and improve services in the tertiary sector.

By doing so, Xinjiang aims to build a "paradise" for visitors, said Wang.

Statistics show that during the 1996-2000 period, the Chinese government injected 4 billion yuan (481 million US dollars) into building tourism infrastructure and construction at scenic spots. Last year, the regional government poured more than 1 billion yuan(120 million US dollars) into the development of local tourism.

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