Tourism brings en­trepreneur­s busi­ness in Xin­jiang

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE -

URUMQI — With an av­er­age al­ti­tude of more than 4,000 me­ters above sea level, few plants can thrive in Tashikur­gan Ta­jik au­tonomous county on the Pamir Plateau.

But for Dil­dar Yakup, the county — the high­est in North­west China’s Xin­jiang Uygur au­tonomous re­gion — is an ideal place for new busi­nesses to grow.

The 28-year-old eth­nic Ta­jik is run­ning a cafe and two res­tau­rants in Tashikur­gan. It is the only Ta­jik au­tonomous county in China, with about 81 per­cent of its roughly 41,000 res­i­dents be­long­ing to the Ta­jik eth­nic group.

His pas­sion for en­trepreneur­ship dates back to his col­lege days.

Yakup, who grew up in south Xin­jiang, at­tended high school in Shang­hai in 2007 thanks to a pro­gram nur­tur­ing tal­ented young­sters among the coun­try’s eth­nic mi­nor­ity groups.

Yakup later stud­ied tourism man­age­ment in a lo­cal col­lege, em­bark­ing on his first busi­ness ven­ture in his sopho­more year by work­ing as an agent to help for­eign­ers find jobs. After grad­u­a­tion, he started up a work­shop with sev­eral friends to make ads for e-com­merce plat­forms.

“Busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties abound in Shang­hai, and it feels good to run your own busi­ness,” Yakup says.

After stay­ing in Shang­hai for about nine years, in late 2016, Yakup went back to his home­town, find­ing it to also be rich in op­por­tu­nity and boast­ing a sup­port­ive busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment.

In re­cent years, Tashikur­gan has seen a grow­ing num­ber of vis­i­tors drawn to the county’s snow-capped moun­tains, ver­dant grass­land and Ta­jik fes­tiv­i­ties, such as the ea­gle dance and polo.

How­ever, Yakup saw there was an op­por­tu­nity to of­fer them a bet­ter tra­di­tional Ta­jik food ex­pe­ri­ence than was al­ready avail­able.

“Food is part of cul­ture, and a stylish res­tau­rant can also be a tourism des­ti­na­tion,” says Yakup, who opened his first eatery in late 2018.

The most pop­u­lar dish in the res­tau­rant is yak meat hot pot, which com­bines the main­land’s pop­u­lar hot pot cul­ture and Tashikur­gan’s yak in­dus­try.

Yakup then opened a cafe and be­came man­ager of a high-end Ta­jik­style res­tau­rant, both of which are lo­cated near pop­u­lar sight­see­ing spots and, dur­ing peak tourism sea­sons, vis­i­tors have to make reser­va­tions.

More than 1.1 mil­lion trips were made to Tashikur­gan in 2019, bring­ing in more than 1 bil­lion yuan ($141.3 mil­lion) in tourism rev­enue. The re­mote county made it onto the top na­tional tourist des­ti­na­tion list in late 2019, and is no longer con­sid­ered as a poverty-stricken area.

The bur­geon­ing tourism mar­ket on the Pamir Plateau has not only drawn vis­i­tors, but also en­trepreneur­s like Yakup. His two main busi­ness part­ners, Zhang E and Zha Juan, used to work else­where in China, but both de­cided to stay in Tashikur­gan for ca­reer developmen­t.

Zha, who has set up a tourism developmen­t com­pany there, is now par­tic­i­pat­ing in over 10 ho­tel-re­lated projects in the county. She has made train­ing lo­cal pro­fes­sion­als a pri­or­ity.

“They know all about lo­cal eth­nic cul­ture and tra­di­tions, which they can help re­tain and high­light, and this is key to sus­tain­able tourism developmen­t,” Zha says.

Yakup’s busi­nesses have cre­ated jobs for over 20 lo­cals. De­spite a fall in vis­i­tor num­bers due to the COVID19 pan­demic, he is still up­beat.

“The im­pact will be short-term. After the epi­demic ends, the pent-up tourism de­mand might gen­er­ate a surge in trips to Tashikur­gan,” Yakup says.

In April, con­struc­tion be­gan on Tashikur­gan Air­port, ex­pected to be the high­est-al­ti­tude air­port in Xin­jiang. Slated for com­ple­tion be­fore June 2022, it will im­prove trans­porta­tion and boost the county’s tourism mar­ket.

Yakup also plans to make a foray into cross-bor­der trade as Tashikur­gan bor­ders Pak­istan, Afghanista­n and Ta­jik­istan.

“My home­town is chang­ing for the bet­ter. I will be here for the long term,” he says.

PHO­TOS BY HU HUHU / XIN­HUA

Left: Zha Juan, founder of a tourism com­pany in Tashikur­gan Ta­jik au­tonomous county, Xin­jiang Uygur au­tonomous re­gion. Right: Zha and Dil­dar Yakup, a lo­cal en­trepreneur, dis­cuss the dec­o­ra­tion of a res­tau­rant in Tashikur­gan early last month.

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