Many popular sightseeing regions in Sichuan province reopened for business yesterday, more than a month after the devastating earthquake struck and closed them off to tourists.
Daring backpackers may still encounter leaning temples, highways at risk from landslides and falling rocks, and perhaps even experience the ripple of aftershocks, but the local government and travel agencies promise that safety, comfort and fun in Sichuan are coming with a large discount.
On Friday, the provincial tourism bureau announced that 13 cities and ethnic minority autonomous districts would return to normal tourist business, starting from yesterday.
The list includes Zigong , Panzhihua , Luzhou , Suining , Neijiang , Leshan , Nanchong , Yibing , Guangan , Dazhou , Meishan , Ziyang and Liangshan , mostly in the southern and eastern part of Sichuan. Jiuzhaigou , in the far north, and Ganzi, in the west, are set to open to tourists soon.
The local government has also announced a three-year plan to rebuild the province's massive tourist industry.
The first step is aimed at reviving the internal market, with the slogan 'born in Sichuan, tour in Sichuan'.
According to the government plan, the tourism sector would wholly recover from the earthquake by the end of next year in terms of scale and scope, and quake-related theme parks would emerge in the worst-hit areas after 2010 as a major source of employment and income for local residents.
In an attempt to attract tourists, the tourism bureau has promised that ticket prices would drop by up to 30 per cent, with discounted hotels and transportation, even during the peak season.
Travel agencies on the mainland received the news with mixed reactions, but all agreed that Sichuan was too valuable a destination to be shunned by tourists for long.
Guangdong-based Nanhu Travel Agency was one of the first companies to organise trips into the province following the announcement, with the first group of 30 tourists arriving in Chengdu yesterday to climb Emei Mountain and gaze at the Leshan Buddha - a 71-metre-tall statue carved from a cliff face during the Tang dynasty more than a millennium ago.
The booking was unexpectedly full, thanks to a discount of nearly 50 per cent, and a counter clerk at the agency said she was optimistic about the future.
'Travelling to Sichuan is a deal that many thrifty people in Guangdong will find attractive,' she said.
But most other agencies, including China Travel Service and the China Youth Service, which hold a large slice of the market share, wanted to wait before re-establishing their routes in the region following the earthquake.
China Ocean International Travel Service sales manager Yan Lina was adamant that, however time-consuming it would be, safety and logistics would have to be double-checked before any tourists could be sent in.
'Our policy is that every route must be walked through by at least one senior member of our management. It is difficult at the moment because many of our contract hotels, transportation companies and even tour guides are still involved in the post-quake relief efforts.'