Tourism, a pillar of Xinjiang's economy, has been hard hit by the ethnic strife in Urumqi . Industry experts said summer was the peak season for Xinjiang's travel industry, but tens of thousands of trip cancellations would be another blow to the autonomous region's economy. Liang Jie, a spokeswoman for a Guangzhou-based travel agency, expects it will take months for tourism to return to normal. Zeng Yi, who is in charge of a Guangzhou travel agency's domestic tour section, said: 'It is too early to say when tourists will return.' Around 363,000 overseas tourists and 21.9 million mainlanders visited the area last year, generating more than 20.6 billion yuan (HK$23.4 billion), and accounting for 6.8 per cent of economic activity in the region. Xinjiang's tourism bureau said it had prepared to welcome 490,000 visitors from abroad and 24.16 million from the mainland this year. 'We usually have more than 100 people signed up for Xinjiang tours every day in the summer months,' Mr Zeng said. In Urumqi, Duan Shengjun at the Yinhua Hotel said more than half of the guests had left. 'If it was not for the riots, you would see a lot of people,' Mr Duan said, pointing at the empty lobby. 'Our hotel was fully booked before the riots happened, but people ran away after that, and nobody is coming.' An Urumqi travel agent, who gave her name as Ms Li, said: 'After the protests all the groups that were visiting and would be coming all cancelled their trips.' She said her company was expecting a tough year as prospects for the peak season looked dim. 'Our business was already not doing well because of the financial crisis, now we are entering the winter earlier.' Ms Liang's agency has cancelled all tours until further notice. She said about 600 people were affected. 'Our priority is the people's safety,' she said. 'Urumqi is the first stop of nearly all tour groups. It is too early to say when we will resume our Xinjiang tour. We encourage people to change their travel plans. If they decide not to go, we will return all the money.' Xinhua said that more than 1,400 tour groups cancelled trips, affecting about 85,000 tourists, including 4,400 from abroad. It said around 20 sightseeing shuttle buses were damaged in the riots on Sunday, which left at least 156 dead and more than 1,000 injured. About 1,200 travellers belonging to 56 sightseeing groups, including 373 overseas tourists, are still travelling in Xinjiang. Their agencies have adjusted the schedules.