Three Gorges tourist numbers drop as dam water level rises
Bill Savadove in Shanghai
The number of visitors to the Three Gorges tourist attraction has dropped this summer to the lowest level in more than a decade, a year after the mainland filled the reservoir of the world's largest dam.
Officials in Chongqing , the upstream gateway to the Three Gorges on the Yangtze River, declined to give figures. But state media said operators cancelled nearly 80 per cent of tours in June, while the number of visitors departing from Chongqing for the gorges each day has dropped by almost half from peak attendance levels in 2002.
Officials blamed the sharp drop in both domestic and overseas tourists during the traditional high season on tour operators who advertised the 'last chance' to see the gorges before the reservoir was flooded, which led some to believe the scenery would disappear.
However, state media said an increase in pollution and floating debris after the water level rose behind the dam had also discouraged tourists.
Some tour operators say the disappearance of some scenic landmarks because of rising waters has made the trip less interesting than before, since travel agencies had to scrap some traditional stops.
High prices and poor facilities for visitors have hurt tourism as well.
Local governments have raised the combined ticket price for a number of attractions on the river to 150 yuan from 80 yuan.
Travel industry officials put the cost for a journey from Shanghai and Beijing to the gorges at more than 3,000 yuan, roughly the same as a package tour to Southeast Asia.
An official at the Shanghai Chunqiu Travel Agency now had just one weekly tour of about 20 people to the gorges at a cost of 4,000 yuan each.
The number of foreign tourists had also fallen sharply, said an official at the China International Travel Service in Chongqing.
An official of industry group Chongqing Waterway Passenger Transport Association said 40,000 people visited the gorges last month, a sharp fall, but declined to give comparative figures.
However, some industry officials expect tourism to rebound after the controversial Three Gorges Dam is completed in 2009.