Despite the shock that hit the local tourism industry after the devastating earthquake, Sichuan tourism is back on the mend. Ya'an city, in particular, is one location that has flourished, thanks in part to giant pandas.
The city now hosts the largest number of captive and wild pandas in the world, Xiang Huaquan, director of the city's Publicity Department, told chinadaily.com.cn on May 12, the first anniversary of the Wenchuan Earthquake. They are now living comfortably in the Bifengxia (or Green Peak Canyon) Giant Panda Base in the north of the city.
Most of them were relocated from the world-famous Wolong Panda Breeding Center, after the habitat was all but destroyed by the May 12 earthquake. Since then, tourists have streamed into Bifengxia to catch a glimpse of the cute animals.
Coupled with a “low price” policy and other promotional measures, Ya'an's tourism has put up a strong performance.
Since the restart of the city's tourism market in June 2008, Ya’an has maintained a ten-month consecutive growth, according to Sichuan Tourism Bureau. Statistics also show that Ya’an received 2.79 million tourists in the first four months of 2009, 35.14% higher compared with the same period of 2008, and earned 12 billion yuan, 59.76% higher.
For a city where 15 percent of its GDP comes from the tourism idustry, the tourism revival couldn't be overstressed.
On May 12, 2009, the first anniversary of last year's Wenchuan earthquake, tourists and their cars swarmed the Bifengxia Giant Panda Base. As a result, the deputy mayor of Ya'an city, Liao Kai, had to ride a motorcycle to the peak to direct traffic.
Although the giant pandas have greatly revitalized its tourism, Ya’an city is also developing other tourist attractions, such as Bifengxia's scenic spots and the indigenous tea culture, as most of the pandas here may eventually move to a new breeding center rebuilt in Wolong.
The construction of a new China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center will kick off in Wolong before August. The new base will be located in the Huangcaoping area, about 10 kilometers from the former breeding base, Xinhua News Agency reported in late April.
The new facility, to be called the China Giant Panda Protection and Research Center, will house 25 projects funded by the government of Hong Kong costing 1.3 billion yuan ($190 million), according to the report.
Li Jingfeng, spokesman for the Ya’an city government, said it was unclear when the displaced pandas will return to the new base in Wolong. However, media reports said that most of the displaced pandas are likely to return to Wolong in two to three years when the base is completed.