China banking on culture to make it the world's top destination

While most countries pin their tourism hopes on the lure of physical attractions - both natural and manmade - China has entered 2011 by announcing that its culture will be the focus of its marketing as it eyes the position of the world's top tourist destination.

China's tourism industry was boosted last year when the United Nations World Tourism Organization in March predicted the country would be the most visited in the world by 2015. At present, China sits third (with 55.98 million visitors in 2010) behind France (78.95 million) and the United States (60.88 million).

In response, the China National Tourism Office has this year launched a "China Culture Tour 2011" campaign - and the Chinese government has been encouraging its tourism companies to include cultural excursions as part of the agenda.

One of the main attractions for international visitors will be Beijing's National Museum of China ( http://www.chnmuseum.cn/) set to open on April 1 after three-and-a-half-years of work and 2.5 billion yuan (278 million euros) spent on upgrading.

The museum now spans almost 200,00 square meters - three times what it was - while boasting 49 specific exhibition rooms. China's State Administration of Cultural Heritage has also sent more than 390,000 cultural relics to the museum in anticipation of its opening - meaning its total collection spans some 1.05 million pieces.

But China is keen that international visitors head to more than just the traditional stopovers of the likes of Beijing and Shanghai. By 2015, the country will boast 16,000 km of fast-speed train lines and the government is hoping visitors will make full use of the "opening up" of the countryside.

Chinese media have been reporting that specific cultural events targeted for promotion internationally include until-now relatively unheard of events such Fanjing Mountain's International Tent Festival and the International Cave Festival at the Zhijin Cave Museum - both of which will soon be linked to the country's massive internal rail network.

"People from overseas witness this change and become more interested in Chinese culture," Chinatour.com International Inc president Bo Wang told the state-run China Daily newspaper. "They talk about China every day, everywhere in the world. They want to experience the changes in China for themselves and see them with their own eyes."

MS

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