An ancient city's new allure

Publish Time:2019-06-04 18:13:43Source:China Daily

【Introduction】:Cultural development and overseas promotions are fueling Suzhou's inbound tourism.

Cultural development and overseas promotions are fueling Suzhou's inbound tourism.

Gu Zhenhong moved gracefully to the soothing traditional Chinese music onstage at a hotel in Jiangsu province's Suzhou in late May.

Gu wore white silk clothes as he worshiped herbs before lighting them like incense. Wisps of smoke danced around him, filling the air with a pleasant aroma.

"I'd like to spend the rest of my life producing herbs," says Gu, who runs a herbal-culture center in the city.

"I want to bring people the most natural varieties."

People surrounded him after his performance. Some asked about the herbs' benefits and recipes that feature them.

Gu regularly interacts with travelers from abroad since Suzhou's cultural development and overseas promotion have drawn a growing number of inbound tourists.

Most come from Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Russia. They often visit in groups of six or eight, he says.

"They're very interested in our local culture," Gu says.

"Many experience herbal and tea rituals at our place. They sometimes wear traditional Han attire and learn ancient dances with our staff."

Gu's recent performance is part of the city government's strategy to add new cultural experiences and elements to enhance Suzhou's charm.

"Some artists have great pieces and skills but experience difficulty finding buyers while visitors don't know how to access them," says Wang Rudong, a senior official with the city's culture, radio, TV and tourism bureau.

Various innovative-product evaluations and competitions have been staged to discover folk arts that appeal to overseas travelers.

Winners receive government funding and publicity support, Wang says.

Suzhou launched a campaign starting in 2014 that invites North American travel agencies, experts and celebrities to experience the city and has engaged social media, with considerable followings on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Nearly 140,000 North Americans visited Suzhou last year, an increase of 67 percent over 2014, the local culture, radio, TV and tourism bureau reports.,/p>

Travel agencies in North America offer over 400 travel products in Suzhou, Wang says.

Wang expects the number to maintain a 7-to-8 percent growth rate this year.

It's easy for international travelers to reach since it's a roughly half-hour high-speed rail trip from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport.

Suzhou's canal networks have earned it the nickname, "the Venice of the East" and its abundance of ancient gardens also makes it "China's Eden".

Eleven sites along its canals and nine classical gardens have made the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The city received more than 1.8 million inbound tourists, who spent at least one night, in 2018, compared with 1.76 million the previous year.

The influx of visitors from overseas, who often come for the sites, has pushed tourism authorities to develop more cultural experiences for them to enjoy, such as flower-arrangement and bonsai classes offered in classical gardens, Wang says.

"These are quite popular with inbound tourists, especially from the United States and Europe," he says.

Many North American houses have yards, so visitors can apply the skills they learn in Suzhou to their homes when they return, he says.

They could also learn how to craft local fans and oil-paper umbrellas, and go backstage to watch Kunqu Opera performers apply elaborate makeup.

Many pick and drink tea at Dongshan Mountain near Taihu Lake in the spring.

The abundance of inbound tourists has prompted local fan artist Sheng Chun to market classes to them.

Her company recently translated its informational materials into English.

"And we'll offer English-speaking tour guides in the future," she says.

Indeed, it seems the development of local cultural experiences will continue to contribute to the international appeal of Suzhou's classical sites.

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