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Guilin's City Tourism Dream Comes True in Guangxi China

Guilin ity famed for natural beauty expects 15% rise in tourists over next 2 years

What can be a better dream for a tourist city than attracting more visitors? For Lin Yejiang, head of Guilin's tourist administration, his dream is bound to come true.

Guilin-the city proper and its 11 counties-has a total population of no more than 5 million. In 2013, the number of tourists who visited was seven times its population, spending a total of 36 billion yuan ($5.83 billion).

By comparison, the number of overseas tourists was small, only around 2 million. But that number is already sufficient to rank Guilin as one of the 10 most favored international tourist destinations in China, Lin said.

"Our unique landscape has always earned us that status since the country's opening up to international tourism."

By the end of 2015, or the end of the 12th Five-Year Plan period, the city expects to have received 42 million visitors in total, Lin said. Overseas visitors' number will also have seen a corresponding rise. But that also means the city has to seek an increase in incoming tourists of more than 15 percent in two years.

Now that many industries in China are going through a growth slowdown, if not net decline, where does all his optimism come from?

Lin is fully confident the expected growth will happen. He insisted the central government's commitment to the development of public infrastructure in China's less-industrialized regions will bring huge benefits to the city that was once cut away from the rest of the country by high mountains and deep valleys.

In less than two years, Lin said, Guilin will be one of the few cities in the Chinese hinterlands to have two major high-speed railway links running through its area, with a planned one-hour connection with Guangzhou especially important.

Guangzhou is the business center of the coastal Guangdong province. In 2013 the province's GDP was already 6.2 trillion yuan, close to the size of South Korea's economy.

Local officials said high-speed rail links will make Guilin's picturesque scenery and relaxing lifestyle much more accessible to consumers from the country's more affluent coastal cities.

And as the high-speed railways provide new domestic connections, international flights and more convenient short stay visa terms are likely to bring in more overseas travelers, Lin said.

In July 2014, Guilin became the ninth Chinese city to grant 72-hour, visa-free status to transit visitors from 51 countries.

Guilin's Liangjiang International Airport still has to reach its full capacity, and the building of an additional terminal building will enlarge its capacity in 2017.

"Our main task now is to publicize the new terms we have adopted in our target overseas markets", which are Hong Kong, South Korea and the ASEAN member countries, Lin said.

With direct flights from many Asian cities, the number of transit visitors will gradually increase in due course, the official said.

Now that it has identified how to attract more visitors, Guilin's next major challenge ahead is how to make them stay longer.

As well as river tours, international conferences and outdoor sport activities, lots of new and trendy programs are already being tried out. Many new facilities are also being built, including hotels and restaurants run by local families and by foreigners.

In the meantime, a vocational school, one of the largest of its kind in China, is helping the city train young professionals to work in its tourism services.

But will all this guarantee tourists stay longer or spend more? Lin said the city is not after quick results.

"We have to do whatever we can to improve our service quality. We know we can't expect to achieve results overnight-but in time, we will reach our goals."