Jiuquan hopes tourism will lift off after launch

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 October, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 October, 2003, 12:00am

The space programme put Jiuquan on the map this week, and the city fathers intend to keep it there.

Mayor Li Pei Wen, 47, hopes that the success of the manned mission will give the area's tourism industry a much-needed lift. Many tourists need a good reason to head to the far reaches of China, but a chance to see the space programme up close could be enough of a draw.

Mr Li's plans to exploit the publicity Jiuquan has received in recent days include turning tourism into a pillar industry of the local economy.

'Last year total tourism revenue was 380 million yuan (HK$356 million), nearly 3 per cent of the region's gross domestic product,' said Mr Li.

Jiuquan city has 170,000 residents - small by mainland standards - but the greater Jiuquan area encompasses nearly half Gansu province.

The mayor would like to see this enormous district's far-flung spots brought together by the launch.

'The astronaut is a modern-day version of a character in an ancient myth popular in Dunhuang [the site of hundreds of painted grottos]. Fei Tian was a man who dreamed of flight. Dunhuang has many paintings of this myth, but now Jiuquan has the real thing,' said Mr Li. He believes this connection is strong enough to link the two places, even though Dunhuang, a tourist location technically in the same district, is 600km away from the launch site.

Mr Li said a highway already linked Dunhuang and the launch site, and more high-quality roads would be completed by the end of next year.

Of the 800,000 people who visited the area last year, 30,000 were foreigners, mostly Japanese and Korean. Mr Li is urging the central government to relax security restrictions and allow foreigners to visit the launch site.

'Not even people from Hong Kong and Macau can go. Russian and American launch bases are open to anyone,' he added.

But some sceptics say it will take more than popularity of the manned space mission to put Jiuquan on the tourism map. The area remains largely rural and last year agriculture accounted for 20 per cent of its GDP.

However, residents are already in the mood to promote their new-found celebrity.

On a clear, bright day, nearly 10,000 people took part in festivities orchestrated by local authorities, including parades, traditional folk dances and drumming.