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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Jiuzhaigou’s tourism industry ponders its future after quake

(SCMP) The damage wrought by the magnitude-7 earthquake on China's magnificent Jiuzhaigou National Park on August 8 has cast a gloomy spell over a tourism boom built around it, leaving vendors and hotel operators facing hard decisions: to cut their losses and leave, or stay until the park and its facilities are restored.

Late summer and autumn is the peak tourism season for the Unesco World Heritage listed park that features otherworldly coloured lakes and waterfalls against a backdrop of deciduous forests and snow- capped mountains. In the week before the quake, the park hosted close to 40,000 tourists a day.

Since the disaster that, at last count, claimed 24 lives and injured 493 others, photos and video footage of damage at popular attractions in the park have circulated widely online, breaking the hearts of those who admired its natural grandeur.

The quake literally changed the landscape – Sparking Lake, one of the most popular locations for selfies and souvenir photos, shrank in size significantly.

"The earthquake opened a wide and deep rift at the bottom of the lake, and water has been draining away," said Chen Degang, a member of the Handan outdoor search and rescue team.

On Saturday, the dozen or so police and soldiers guarding the park's main entry were admitting only rescue teams, which kept arriving.

The earthquake has also shaken the confidence of business owners in surrounding communities, many of whom invested their futures in the park's popularity.

Service industries drive about two thirds of the region's economy, according to the Jiuzhaigou county economic yearbook. Last year, more than 7.2 million people visited the county, including five million who visited the park, generating more than 9 billion yuan (US$1.35 billion) in revenue.

In Zhangzha Town, near the epicentre, a Tibetan woman surnamed Liu said she was ready to close her grocery shop as tourists were not expected to return for months, or possibly years.

Liu, a native of Jinchuan county some 200km away from Jiuzhaigou county, was one of many non-locals who moved to the valley during its early days of commercialisation in the early 2000s. In 2009, she opened a small grocery in Zhangzha while working a day job at a local fried chicken shop.

This year she paid 70,000 yuan in rent for her shop. But the quake damage left little hope of making a profit over the rest of the year.

On the night of the quake, her shop was inundated by tourists who had run out of their hotels and guest houses in panic, and half of her stock was gone in a few hours.

"A woman tourist taking shelter in my store said she was so frightened that she vowed never to return to the valley," Liu said.

Fruit vendor Yang Qingxiu and her husband were worried that their business would tumble. "No tourists will come here during the park's restoration," she said.

For years, they have sold fresh tropical fruit trucked in from Chengdu, the provincial capital, to cater to visitors unaccustomed to the dry mountain weather. Now all the tourists had been evacuated, they were forced to sell their stock at below cost to reduce their loss.

The park's uncertain future also worries guest house and hotel owners. Many who spoke to the Post said they would stuggle to repay their debts incurred during construction, and hope the government will offer some sort of earthquake relief to help reduce their losses.

Lin Li, manager of Jiuzhai Sea View Hotel who only moved to Zhangzha last month, was among the few who remained optimistic about the park's recovery.

"For sure, tourism will slow down for a while," Lin said. "But we should be confident that Jiuzhaigou National Park will be repaired. After all, it's the World Heritage Jiuzhaigou Park."

Source: South China Morning Post by Sidney Leng

from China Travel & Tourism News
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