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Fenghuang Applies for Top Travel Ranking

Already a nationally renowned sightseeing area, Fenghuang county in Hunan province is building a global name as a tourist destination by applying for designation as a national 5A-level travel zone, the top rank in China’s travel.

The old town of Fenghuang, known for its well-preserved buildings from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), natural environment and ethnic culture, was listed as a 4A-level travel site in 2009.

Formerly a military garrison in the border area, Fenghuang is applying for UNESCO World Heritage status for its regional military defense system.

The county hosted 9.6 million tourists last year, earning revenue of 8.1 billion yuan ($1.27 billion).

In the first seven months of this year, it welcomed 6.9 million tourists, an increase of 36.9 percent year-on-year, including more than 210,000 overseas visitors. They stayed for 2.1 days on average, increasing from 1.8 days in the same period a year earlier.

Compared with many other ancient towns across China, Fenghuang stands out because of its combination of many attractive elements – the natural beauty of its river and mountains, centuries-old architecture, cultural heritage and being home to a number of influential people in modern history, said Shi Rongfen, deputy Party chief of the county.

Shi said infrastructure, safety, culture, management and marketing are the key words for the future development of travel in the county.

She said Fenghuang would put in place more convenient transportation, a new tourist service center, improved toilets and sewage network and a standardized road sign system. A credibility system has been established among the region’s shop owners.

High-definition cameras cover the entire travel area, so that visitors can be monitored while in the area.

Months ago, a tourist had his belongings stolen and the thief was caught in just 10 minutes thanks to the monitoring system.

As a settlement area for nearly 30 ethnic groups, mainly the Miao, Fenghuang boasts a strong ethnic flavor.

“The travel market is a platform and promoter for traditional cultures,” said Shi. “We allow the local culture to create blood itself, rather than just transfusing blood to it, by combining it with the business sector.”

The local authorities are promoting local ethnic cultures by organizing festival activities and protecting intangible cultural heritage items.

Shi said the county attracts many tourists every year during the Spring Festival, or the Chinese traditional New Year, as many activities are organized, such as art performances including dragon and lion dances and traditional opera, and demonstrations of how to cook the local cuisine and snacks.

Other activities include an ethnic silverware show, a costume exhibition and a biennial photography exhibition.

As Fenghuang becomes increasingly attractive for overseas visitors, the travel authority has taken measures to improve its internationalized service, including installing road signs in Chinese, English and Korean and encouraging local hotels to learn how to cook foreign cuisine.

In addition to preservation of the old town of Fenghuang, the local government plans to expand sightseeing areas along the Tuojiang River, the Nanhua Mountain and nearby villages.

In sharp contrast with the bustling core area of the old town, which the Tuojiang River runs through, the lower reaches of the river are being designed with a theme of peace, where tourists can enjoy walking through nature, contemplating quietly.

The area is scheduled to be completed by 2017.

The Nanhua Mountain area highlights the culture of the phoenix, which Fenghuang means in Chinese. Buildings including pavilions, bridges and temples are all associated with legends about the phoenix, and there is also a museum showcasing the culture.

In the surrounding villages, three travel routes are planned, focusing on the natural landscape, local customs and the culture and history of the former military garrison.

Shi said that travel leads the way in the county’s urbanization and modern agriculture and industry, adding that travel and related businesses have created more than 100,000 jobs.

One of the county’s current challenges is to upgrade industry models, including attracting high-end hotels, she said, as the existing hotels are mostly business-oriented, and Fenghuang wants to introduce more world-class leisure hotel and resort brands.

Fenghuang county welcomed 6.9 million tourists in the first seven months of this year.

Source: China Daily