Ready for the big league

Updated: 2012-11-09 10:05

By Wang Chao (China Daily)

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Ready for the big league

A digital rendering of how the "European" township of Anshun will look. The tourism city in Southwest China's Guizhou province hopes to complete the project with European investors. Provided to China Daily

Chinese waterfall town looks to carve a niche in tourist map with European attractions

Not satisfied with its rating as an important five-star tourist destination, An-shun, a small city in Southwest China, is looking to reposition itself by packing in more European tourist attractions to grab more eyeballs and attract visitors.

Anshun is already well known as the home of Huangguoshu, the biggest waterfall in China, which is ranked "AAAAA" by the China National Tourist Attractions Quality Evaluation Committee, the top of its kind. However, the city authorities are now looking to boost earnings from tourism by adding more spice to visits with bullfights, exotic dancers, shoes and delicacies from Europe.

The virtually unknown and landlocked city of 2.69 million people expects to complete the tourism expansion project with the help of big-ticket European investors. It hopes the project, which also includes a massive European township, would be completed in the next 10 years.

Ready for the big league

The project is a comprehensive real estate development plan with luxury hotels, restaurants, cinemas, shopping malls and other entertainment facilities.

Since the region has many rivers and lakes, the European town will adopt a Mediterranean style, and the water areas will be called beaches.

Other highlights when complete include franchise stores from France and an upmarket sanatorium from Germany. Some real estate developers are also talking to leading French brands about possible alliances, and the sanatorium contract is likely to be signed this month.

The biggest source of revenue for Anshun is tourism. Last year, the city, covering 9,267 square kilometers, earned 18.7 billion yuan ($3 billion; 2.3 billion euros) from tourism (66 percent of its revenue), and received 18.55 million visitors. Foreign visitors account for more than 1 percent of the total number of tourists.

Limited hotel capacity and lack of infrastructure have greatly restrained tourism development in the region. There are only 2,000 beds available for accommodation, including those in rural inns.

Yang Kaihua, director of the Huangguoshu Scenic Area Working Committee, says the new project is expected to give a fillip to tourism in the area. "There will be 7,000 to 10,000 beds available after the European town is built," Yang says. "Hopefully, the project can draw more than 4 million tourists every year to stay for the night, and therefore generate more revenue for the local economy."

Manuel Castro Almeida, director of the Portuguese city Sao Joao da Madeira, says it is very important for European companies to get involved with the development of China, and "this is a good opportunity to do so".

Almeida is the first mayor from Portugal to visit Anshun.

Recently, Sao Joao da Madeira, a small city in Portugal known for its promotion of industrial tourism, and Anshun became sister cities, and the two sides decided to carry out a series of trade and cultural exchanges. This move will also bring more foreign tourists to Anshun, Yang says.

Almeida says he will introduce local enterprises from Portugal to Anshun, mostly local specialty producers, including shoe design and wine making companies.

"Since Portugal is a small country, the market potential is limited, so An-shun will be a good start," Almeida says. "Starting next month, I will put most of the enterprises in my city in touch with the Anshun government."

Bilingual schools will also be set up in Portugal and China so both countries can know more about each other's culture.

With bullfighting expected to be a big attraction of the future European town, many Spanish businesses involved in this area are coming forward for possible tie-ups.

Cidalia Rola, a horse raiser based in Portugal, is raising riding horses for matadors. Recently she took a big order - 30 bulls and six riding horses - from the Anshun European town developers, for future use in bullfighting. Each horse costs 2 to 3 million yuan.

Yang Xiangdong, a major real estate developer, estimates that the entire bullfighting project will cost 120 million yuan, including 400,000 euros ($510,465) to fly the animals from Europe to Anshun.

Over the next two years, a Chinese ethnic town with investment of 500 million yuan will break ground first, while developers continue to search for more European investors. From 2014, the focus will switch to the European town project, Yang Xiangdong says.

When completed in 2016, the bullring will be able to hold 6,000 spectators every day, and the shows are expected to generate annual revenue of 80 million yuan.

To boost local tourism, Yang says the University of Aveiro from Portugal, known for tourism management courses, will set up a campus in Anshun.

"Students will study for three years in Guizhou and then one year in Portugal," Yang Xiangdong says, adding that tourism product design will be an important course, as there are now very few souvenirs available in Anshun.

Chow Yiping, president of the Association of Chinese in Portugal, says his association will help boost alliances between Anshun and Portugal, starting with the trade segment.

Chow has lived in Portugal for more than 40 years and has good connections with local officials and businessmen.

He is also pressing the Portuguese government to sign a cooperation agreement with Anshun, and later to expand it to the entire Guizhou province.

"Anshun needs to publicize itself to the Western world, as many other Chinese cities need to do. Although Portugal is a small nation, it is a European Union country. If the cooperation succeeds, it will help us to reach out to more European countries."

(China Daily 11/09/2012 page21)