Xinjiang becomes playground for 30 million winter visitors
More than 30 million tourists are expected in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region this winter, between November and April, officials predict. The winter visitors, drawn to the region’s snow-capped scenery and diverse cultural attractions, are expected to spend about 18 billion yuan ($2.6 billion).
Winter is becoming a popular time to visit Xinjiang, which borders Russia, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and other countries. The season can last for five months or more, according to Gul Ablim, deputy director of the region’s tourism administration.
“The length of the season supports a lot of ski resorts in the valleys of the Tianshan Mountains’ northern slopes.
“In addition, winter in Xinjiang is milder than that in Northeast China, which means it’s suited to a wider range of ages and different physical conditions,” she said.
Chen Hong jin, general manager of the domestic trip department at leading Chinese online travel agency lvmama.com, recommended winter tourists visit resorts like Tianchi Lake near the Tianshan Mountains and Kanas Lake in northern Xinjiang’s Altay prefecture.
In addition to Xinjiang’s geographic and climatic advantages, Chen said its deserts, ancient Silk Road relics and the mix of ethnic groups such as Uygur, Hui and Kazak add to its attractions.
“Many people know that traveling to Xinjiang in summer is wonderful, while ignoring the fact that the region is equally worth visiting in winter,” he said.
“Whether skiing or admiring the spectacular snowcovered landscapes, whatever activities tourists take part in, I bet they will be fascinated by the amazing scenery and cultural events — the likes of which they’ ll have never seen before.”
To make full use of the region’s resources, Gul Ablim said her office has been working to promote winter tourism over the past decade. A winter tourism industry exposition was launched in the region in 2006, becoming a national exhibition and fair in 2012.
Hosting China’s 13th National Winter Games, which were held in Xinjiang from Jan 20 to 30, provided a further boost with the surge in tourists around the time of the event.
As of late March, Xinjiang had welcomed 100,000 more tourists visiting in groups than it did the previous winter, representing a year-onyear increase of 123 percent.
January alone saw more than 92,000 tourists from overseas visiting Xinjiang, while 77,000 came in February and 105,000 in March.
Nevenka Girvan, a retired businesswoman from Australia who has traveled to Xinjiang in both summer and winter, said she enjoyed the colder months for the clean air, beautiful scenery and the interesting mix of winter activities such as riding in a horse-drawn sleigh, sledding and horse racing on ice.
The 65-year-old said she has found Xinjiang’s winters to be quite mild, with plenty to keep her occupied.
To better exploit Xinjiang’s potential as a major destination for winter trips and attract more tourists from both China and abroad, Gul Ablim said the autonomous region is working to draft preferential policies and speed up construction of travel facilities.
“Places suitable for winter trips in northern Xinjiang — such as in Ili Kazak autonomous prefecture, Altay prefecture and Chang ji Hui autonomous prefecture — are building ski resorts,” she said.
Clockwise from top left: Musicians play an ancient Uygur instrument in Kashgar prefecture. A foreign tourist chats with a resident of an ancient town in Kashgar. Children play on a sled at a scenic spot in Kanas, Altay prefecture. Winter scene in Altay.