Chinese provinces innovate following Harbin to boost tourism

<img src='' alt='Children from Heilongjiang pick kumquats in a kumquat garden in Rong'an County, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, January 12, 2024. /CFP'

Recently, the icy city of Harbin, the snowy capital of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province, has become a trending topic on social media due to its bustling tourism scene. This surge in popularity has not gone unnoticed by cultural and tourism departments in other Chinese provinces, prompting them to ramp up their efforts to attract tourists. Many have updated their official social media platforms, including Douyin, TikTok’s sibling app in China, to engage a broader audience.

Amidst this trend, the Henan Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism has been particularly active on Douyin since January 9. They’ve been posting 20 to 30 videos daily, for a total of 112 videos over four consecutive days. These videos, showcasing the region’s cultural and tourism attractions, have garnered the attention of nearly 1 million viewers.

This influx of posts has spurred curiosity and engagement online, leading to trending searches like “Exactly how many Douyin posts has the Henan Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism created?” The sheer volume of content has even prompted playful banter among netizens, with some jokingly asking, “Does your cultural and tourism department ever take a break?”

In contrast, the cultural and tourism department in east China’s Anhui Province has taken a different course in its social media strategy, opting to emphasize poetic charm. Their short videos, imbued with “ancient style” and “poetry,” offer a unique and captivating content style.

<img src='' alt='Tourists donning ancient costumes enjoy a time-travel experience on an ancient Street, Yongzhou City, central China's Hunan Province, January 16, 2023. /CFP'

Beyond their online promotion strategies, local tourism authorities are enhancing their offline efforts. These include implementing preferential ticket policies, fostering local partnerships and refining service details to enhance the overall experience.

In Henan, there will be over 45,000 diverse public cultural events and thousands of activities across hundreds of scenic spots during the Spring Festival. More than 200 scenic attractions in the province will offer ticket exemptions and discounts to visitors nationwide.

“In terms of external collaboration, we’ve established a tourism partnership with Shanxi Province,” stated Qi Hongqing, a researcher in resource development at the Henan Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism. “Shanxi and Henan have jointly initiated a mutual ticket exemption policy for tourist attractions, aiming for shared resource utilization and cross-promotion of tourism, thereby creating a win-win situation.”

Henan is also introducing innovative ways to attract tourists. At the Luoyang Longmen Railway Station, visitors are greeted in a unique manner: actors donned in “brocade-clad guard” costumes offer a special welcome. Adding to the excitement, there is an offer of 100 synthetic diamonds as gifts. To receive these gifts, visitors need only to answer questions about Luoyang or engage in impromptu poetry exchanges with the hosts.

This generous gesture highlights the region’s dominant industry. According to data from the China Machine Tool & Tool Builders’ Association, China produces 95 percent of the world’s synthetic diamonds, with Henan’s output comprising about 80 percent of the national total.

In neighboring Hebei Province, a range of winter activities are planned to celebrate the New Year. These festivities will span across ancient cities, offering opportunities to explore folk customs, experience time-honored brands and enjoy traditional opera.

“Throughout this Spring Festival, 136 A-level scenic spots in Hebei will offer free or half-priced tickets and various discounts,” said Wang Rongli, deputy director of the Hebei Provincial Culture and Tourism Department. “In addition, tourist travel on Hebei expressways will be toll-free on weekends and holidays.”

<img src='' alt='Tourists gather in the cultural district to revel in the beauty of the lanterns, Nanning, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, January 15, 2024. /CFP'

Before the end of March, Sichuan cities including Aba, Garze, Liangshan and Panzhihua will offer a “buy one, get one free” deal for state-owned tourist attractions rated 4A and above, with free entry for those rated below 4A. Similarly, in Guangxi Province, scenic spots in cities like Nanning and Baise are providing free admission to tourists from the three northeastern provinces.

Meanwhile, Guizhou has unveiled its own winter tourism package, including 10 air-rail transport combinations, 10 branch line flights and 20 self-drive travel packages. This initiative, highlighting Guizhou’s natural and cultural attractions like mountains, hot springs, a mild winter climate and ethnic culture, forms a key part of its market development strategy.

Local specialties foster cultural exchange and tourism

The influx of tourists from the south to Harbin has also cast a spotlight on local specialties. This interest was partly sparked by an event where a group of 11 children from Nanning, dressed in sugar-orange down jackets, traveled to northeast China for a study program and received a warm welcome from the locals.

To express their gratitude for Harbin’s hospitality, Nanning sent 189 tonnes of sugar oranges and tangerines. In a kind-hearted reply, Harbin returned the favor by sending 100,000 boxes of high-quality cranberries back to Nanning. This prompted local Harbin netizens to comment, “As someone from Harbin, I didn’t even realize cranberries were our specialty!”

“Across the various methods of attracting tourists, there’s a shared goal – to delve deep into the unique aspects of local culture and let tourists experience the beauty of Chinese culture,” said Wang Manqian, vice dean of the School of Marxism at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

“For tourism to sustainably boost the economy, offering rich and high-quality cultural tourism resources and enhancing the quality and distinctiveness of the tourist experience is crucial,” she added.

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