Mon, May 26, 2008 - Page 12 News List

Tourism sector suffers after Sichuan earthquake

AFP , DUJIANGYAN

A sculpture proclaims Dujiangyan the “top tourist city in China.” But at the ancient irrigation works, a World Heritage site, the ticket office is now a smashed reminder of a devastating earthquake.

Boulders that tumbled down from the hills above have come to rest among crumbled roofing tiles. A sign warns people to watch their heads.

Tourism in Sichuan Province — known for its spectacular scenery, pandas and cultural attractions — has suffered a terrible blow.

The industry was already hurting, tourism operators say, from a shutdown of areas bordering Tibet following a government crackdown on protests there against Chinese rule earlier this year.

But they say the May 12 earthquake, which measured 8 on the Richter scale and destroyed towns and villages across an area the size of South Korea, has hurt the sector even further.

“There’s nothing much to see anymore,” said Sim Kwan Wah, 44, who runs Sim’s Cozy Garden Hostel in the provincial capital Chengdu with his wife.

Sichuan’s major tourist attractions were in the heart of the quake zone.

China’s top panda breeding center is in Wolong, about 30km from the epicenter.

It suffered major damage and six of the pandas were evacuated on Friday because of a lack of food and ability to look after them.

Around 46 pandas remain at Wolong but it will be a long time before the center can start welcoming tourists again, with roads leading in and vital infrastructure at the reserve destroyed.

Sichuan is also home to sites on the UN cultural agency’s World Heritage list. Besides the Dujiangyang irrigation system, the world’s oldest such operation, there is the Giant Buddha carved in the cliff near Leshan.

“The regions we wanted to visit are no longer accessible,” said Gerald Cochois, 60, a French tourist traveling with his daughter.

They had been staying at Sim’s hostel but were preparing to leave for a neighboring province a safer distance from the quake zone.

Sim’s tranquil garden courtyard is much quieter than he would like. On one recent day he had fewer than 50 guests, down from about 160 per day before the disaster, he said.

Restaurant receipts have plummeted from 5,000 yuan (US$718 dollars) to about 500 yuan.

“And they’re getting worse and worse,” said Sim, a Singaporean, who has sent about 40 percent of his staff on unpaid leave.

Another staffer was killed in the quake, said Sim, who was flying to Singapore to seek an emergency cash cushion to support his business.

Sim said his is the only foreign-run hostel in Chengdu, where business is so bad that competitors have slashed their nightly accommodation rates to as low as 5 yuan.

After an unusually cold winter that forced him to spend more on heating, business began to suffer over the crackdown in Tibet, which became sealed to outsiders, Sim said.

Fear is another factor affecting business, tour operators said.

“Nobody wants to come to an earthquake area,” said Pepe Gazquez, 31, of Peptours in Chengdu.

“We’re going to lose a lot of clients, of course,” he said.

In Dujiangyan, the end of the low-rise Yun He Lou Hotel has fallen off and the entrance is sealed with tape.

A cable car in the hills above the city is motionless, leaving He Quyun and her husband out of work.

He, 66, said she earned 400 yuan a month as a janitor. Her husband was a cook there.

“The whole family depends on this income,” she said.

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