Port city of Xiamen has sights set on Hong Kong's share of tourism

While record numbers of Chinese tourists are flooding in to Hong Kong over the New Year holidays it seems the city's position as China's favorite travel spot is increasingly under threat - from a city that sits just a one-hour flight away.

The historic port city of Xiamen - situated in China's southern Fujian province - has this week been declared the country's most popular internal destination for the Chinese New Year period and second only to Hong Kong in terms of travel both inside and outside the country.

According to a report released by the China Tourism Academy (http://eng.ctaweb.org) on Wednesday, Xiamen has risen to number two from being the fourth-ranked city for the past two New Year periods.

While Hong Kong is most certainly a Chinese city, its status as a "Special Administrative Region" since reverting to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 means it is still considered "overseas'' in terms of such reports and surveys.

Hong Kong expects 650,000 Chinese visitors over the February 3-6 New Year period - a rise of 15 percent - but its tourism chiefs will be looking north with some concern, considering Xiamen has just come off a 20 percent rise in all tourist arrivals in 2010.

Thirty million people took in the city's sites over the past year, generating an impressive 38.3 billion yuan (4.2 billion euros), with the fact that Xiamen from last April opened its bullet train service - linking the city to major centers such as Fuzhou and Shanghai - being given as one of the reasons for the upsurge.

Xiamen's tourism chiefs are also putting the rise in numbers down to increased promotion of the city's attractions, which include its beaches (which look out towards Taiwan), cultural heritage sights such as ancient temples - and the famous Chinese white dolphin.

China's rapid development over the past 30 years has been blamed for a significant decrease in the numbers of the dolphins - known locally as "giant panda in the sea" - but under state protection since 1988.

A Chinese white dolphin reserve of 5,500 hectares was set up in Xiamen in 1997 and officials say they are only just now seeing the benefits.

"In December, more than 30 dolphins appeared in one group in the Wuyuan Bay of Xiamen," Chen Bingyu, from the Xiamen Precious and Rare Marine Species Reserve Management Office, told the official Chinese news agency Xinhua. "It's the first time in more than 20 years."

According to CTA, China's 10 most popular New Year destinations in 2011 are:

1) Hong Kong
2) Xiamen
3) Beijing
4) Shanghai
5) Sanya
6) Hangzhou
7) Guangzhou
8) Shenzhen
9) Chengdu
10) Harbin

For more details on Xiamen and what it has to offer, log onto http://english.xm.gov.cn

MS

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