INNER Mongolia has many tourist attractions, from its clear blue skies and desert to open grassland, and all could generate earnings to help boost the economy. Despite praise for the region's natural beauty, tourism has not been treated as a major part of the region's economy since China's open-door policy started in 1979. Total investment in the 16 years to 1995 was only five to six million yuan, and income generated from tourism has yet to make a significant contribution to gross domestic product. Dong Limin, of the Inner Mongolian tourism bureau's marketing and development division, said: 'Tourism has not been our mainstay.' Last year, foreign tourists totalled 310,000 arrivals, 93 per cent of whom were from Russia and Mongolia. They generated US$87.1 million (HK$673.28 million) in income for Inner Mongolia. No figures for domestic tourist arrivals were provided. Officials want Huhhot, in the central southern part of the autonomous region, to become the major meeting point for tourists. However, its lack of tourism infrastructure is a major obstacle. There are only seven hotels with ratings in Huhhot - two arethree-star, three two-star and one one-star and there are no plans to build any more. In the whole of the autonomous region, there are six category-one travel agents, 79 category-two travel agents and seven category-three travel agents. Mr Dong said most of the agents had offices in Huhhot. Category one agents can carry out tour business in and out of China and receive tourists from abroad. Category two agents are restricted to receiving domestic tourists or referred overseas tourists, while category three agents are restricted to operating domestic tours for Chinese nationals only. Mr Dong said some tourism-related resources were waiting to be developed but investors did not appear interested, foreseeing no quick return. 'In June we were promoting in Hong Kong the establishment of a skating venue in Inner Mongolia requiring an investment of up to 40 million yuan. But there was not a single response,' he said. Despite that, Mr Dong said Inner Mongolia was rich in tourism-related resources.