Cities that went viral shift their focus to sustainable tourism

By Yang Ran| (China Daily)| Updated : 2024-03-19

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Many Chinese cities became viral sensations last year, drawing crowds of tourists to their unique landscapes after a single photo or video captured the imagination of millions online.

During the two sessions, the annual meetings of China's top legislature and top political advisory body, National People's Congress deputies from the cities discussed how to develop sustainable tourism industries, transforming the fleeting booms into sustained visitor interest.

Weihai, a quiet coastal city in Shandong province, offers a compelling answer to the challenge of converting transient internet fame into enduring popularity by aspiring to become an "Exquisite City".

Driven by social media and short video platforms, Weihai's tourism industry saw explosive growth last year, with the city of just 2.92 million residents welcoming over 59 million visits from tourists, according to official data.

To entice those who have already visited to return, Weihai plans to transform the city into the epitome of refinement and warmth, thereby increasing the feeling of satisfaction among tourists and locals, Kong Fanping, an NPC deputy and the mayor of Weihai, said during the two sessions in Beijing.

Kong said that Weihai would base its urban planning and management on a philosophy of "exquisiteness". The approach includes upgrading tourism attractions that have been trending online according to young people's suggestions and preferences, developing public services like community parks and centers based on residents' feedback, and remodeling transport facilities such as high-speed train stations, buses and bike lanes following advice from tourists to reflect the city's attention to detail.

Last summer, Weihai Railway Station's passenger center underwent extensive renovations aimed at enhancing the waiting experience for tourists. In response to complaints about inadequate ventilation in the underground parking area, the station upgraded the parking lot with air conditioning units, significantly improving the comfort of passengers waiting during hot weather.

Four high-powered electric fans were also installed in the ride-hailing pickup area to ensure air circulation, making the wait more pleasant for passengers. The station also added 224 seats in crowded areas like the transfer hall and entrances/exits, providing a more comfortable resting environment for travelers.

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme recognized Weihai's efforts, featuring its "Building an Exquisite City with Green and Warmth" strategy in the Shanghai Manual 2022 — a guide for sustainable urban development — as a model worth sharing globally.

Another city that made many headlines last year was Harbin, Heilongjiang province, known for its distinctive ice and snow scenery. The northeastern city attracted tourists from across the nation this winter.

According to the city's culture, radio, television and tourism bureau, Harbin attracted 135 million visits from tourists last year, up 146 percent year-on-year, and generated tourism revenue of 169 billion yuan ($23.5 billion), up 239 percent.

To maintain the city's tourism growth momentum, Harbin will continue to improve the quality and efficiency of the local government's services, Zhang Qixiang, an NPC deputy and the mayor of Harbin, said at an open discussion held by the Heilongjiang province delegation on Thursday.

Zhang said Harbin, renowned for its winter ice and snow tourism, intends to expand its appeal to year-round tourism by showcasing the city's seasonal attractions. These include fragrant lilacs in spring, refreshing coolness in summer, and picturesque mountain vistas in autumn.

Harbin also plans to integrate local cultural resources with tourism, using its local music, the charm of its European-style architecture and industrial culture to draw more visitors, Zhang said.

NPC deputies from the established tourist destination of Hainan province also explored the development of iconic tourism products to attract more visitors.

Lyu Yan, an NPC deputy and deputy head of Hainan's Baoting Li and Miao autonomous county, highlighted the importance of leveraging local resources to stand out amid competition.

"For example, Baoting is a place where visitors can enjoy both tropical rainforest views and natural hot springs," Lyu said at an open discussion held by the Hainan delegation on Thursday. "We are capitalizing on this unique offering by developing a tropical rainforest hot spring health resort and a Li and Miao cultural preservation and experience zone."