Newspaper article International New York Times

Unrest in Xinjiang Takes Toll on Tourism ; for First Time in 20 Years, Fewer Travelers Visit Region in China's Far West

Newspaper article International New York Times

Unrest in Xinjiang Takes Toll on Tourism ; for First Time in 20 Years, Fewer Travelers Visit Region in China's Far West

Article excerpt

After reports of rioting, terrorism and deadly police shootings, tourism has plummeted in Xinjiang, long considered one of China's most exotic destinations.

The two amateur photographers stood on a hill overlooking the sparkling river in this remote alpine park, waiting for nomads to emerge from their white yurts and herd cows across a bridge.

The men, both age 60, were driving on a one-month road trip through the western region of Xinjiang to capture scenes like this one.

"Don't listen to what other people say about Xinjiang, and don't believe what you read," said Sun Jingchuan, a retired aircraft maintenance worker from Sichuan Province in southwest China. "It's very safe here."

Many other Chinese would dispute that assessment. This year, after a stream of news reports of rioting, terrorist attacks and deadly police shootings linked to ethnic conflict in towns across Xinjiang, tourism has plummeted, the first drop in 20 years.

Xinjiang, the size of Western Europe, has long been considered one of China's most exotic destinations. Chinese tourists, usually traveling in tour groups, visit the grasslands and Siberian forests in the north and desert oasis towns in the south, along the old Silk Road.

Among the locals, an estimated 1.5 million people have some tie to Xinjiang's tourism economy, and many were hoping for a big surge in visitor numbers during the National Day holiday week in China, which began last Wednesday. But given reports in late September of dozens killed in clashes, there is little expectation that the numbers will match those of previous years.

On the morning Mr. Sun and his friend were photographing cows and Kazakh nomads, a report on an official Xinjiang news website said multiple explosions days earlier in Luntai County had killed two people and wounded many others. The website later reported that 40 rioters had died -- some were shot by the police, others blew themselves up -- while six civilians and four police officers and auxiliary employees were killed. Radio Free Asia, financed by the United States government, said the attackers were furious over land seizures by officials. It was the deadliest burst of violence in Xinjiang in weeks, but was not atypical.

In the first half of this year, visits from domestic tourists dropped 7 percent, to 20 million, compared with the period last year, according to official statistics. The revenue from domestic tourists fell nearly 6 percent, to $3.5 billion.

Foreign tourism, which is a small fraction of the total, also dropped, by nearly 1 percent, to 619,300, with revenue falling 1percent, to $161 million. The Xinjiang Regional Tourism Bureau blames "influences from recent terrorist attacks" for the downturn.

In early August, some Chinese-language news websites published an open letter deploring the "great harm" done to the Xinjiang tourism industry by "violent terrorism attacks. …

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