The worst earthquake to hit China in decades has inflicted not only huge casualties but also heavy losses to the popular tourist destination of southwestern Sichuan Province.
The 8.0-magnitude quake that struck the province's Wenchuan County on May 12 has incurred at least 70 billion yuan (10 billion U.S. dollars) of economic loss to the local tourism industry. The amount was more than half of last year's total tourism revenue, said Zhang Gu, Sichuan Provincial Tourism Bureau director.
"The figure of losses is likely to rise further as aftershocks continue," he said.
Some 568 tourist attractions among about 4,000 in total in the province were damaged by the quake, causing 27.84 billion yuan in losses, he said.
Sichuan is a paradise for tourists, with its spectacular natural scenery and five sites on the United Nations cultural agency's World Heritage List. It is best known as home of the endangered giant pandas.
Last year, the province reported tourism revenue of 121.73 billion yuan, up 24.3 percent from a year earlier. The figure accounted for about 11.6 percent of Sichuan's gross domestic product.
The massive quake severely damaged some scenic spots at the Mount Qingcheng and Dujiangyan Irrigation System, and the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries -- both on the World Heritage List.
"Most of the ancient buildings at the Erwang Temple (Temple of Two Kings) built 2,000 years ago in Dujiangyan collapsed, and all roads leading to the Wolong giant panda nature reserve were blocked," Zhang said.
In addition, quite a few scenic spots in other areas were ruined completely and cannot be rebuilt, such as the Yuanwang Cave (Cave of Ape King) in Shifang and Qianfo Mountain (Mountain of Thousand Buddhas) in Anxian County, he said.
Dujiangyan is about 100 kilometers away from the epicenter, Wenchuan County, while Wolong is only about 30 km from Wenchuan.
The centuries-old Dujiangyan Irrigation System also suffered damages but is still operational. In Wolong, the quake left five workers of the nature reserve dead, two pandas injured and six pandas missing -- five of them returned and workers were still looking for the other one.
MARKET CONFIDENCE CALLED FOR
The latest government statistics show the death toll from the devastating quake had increased by about 400 to 68,516 as of Thursday noon. Another 365,399 were injured and 19,350 others missing.
Tens of thousands of tourists from home and abroad were evacuated from quake-hit zones in Sichuan, and no foreigners died in the evacuation.
But tourists have been discouraged by the powerful quake and thousands of aftershocks and dare not travel to Sichuan for now.
Actually, local tourism authorities have banned the entry of all tourist groups for the sake of safety.
"It was our prime time last May, usually a peak season for tourism. But this year, the situation is very bad," said Huang Hai, manager of the West Holiday Travel Service in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province.
At the Jiuzhai Paradise Hotel near the well-known Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area, also a site on the World Heritage List, more than 1,000 rooms have been left vacant after the quake, said Deng Hong, the hotel board chairman.
"Tourists had to book rooms at least five days in advance in May last year," he said.
Travel agencies in Sichuan have reported a total loss of 283 million yuan and hotels reported more than 9.5 billion yuan in losses, statistics from Sichuan Provincial Tourism Bureau show.
"An important thing for us is to gradually help rebuild tourists' confidence," said Xiong Longdong, head of the marketing department of the Sichuan Provincial Tourism Bureau.
Fortunately, Xiong said, the Jiuzhaigou Valley Scenic and Historic Interest Area, about 200 km away from the epicenter, did not suffer any damages in the quake, although road links had been cut.
"In addition, lots of scenic spots in areas far away from the epicenter were not affected," he said.
Local tourism authorities have yet to work out a reconstruction plan for the industry as disaster relief in quake-hit areas remains the top priority, according to director Zhang.
"In post-quake reconstruction, we will first rebuild the tourist sites on the World Heritage List," he said. "It may take at least two years to renovate the damaged ancient relics," he added.
Despite the adversities, travel service manager Huang looked forward to the future optimistically.
"I think the tourism market would begin recovering in June, and in July and August a number of tourists would come to Sichuan during schools holidays," he said.
"In September and October, a gold season for sightseeing in Jiuzhaigou, more tourists will fly there," he added.
(Xinhua News Agency May 29, 2008)