KASHGAR, Xinjiang – Rouzwaikam, a handicraft seller, sat with a bored look Thursday noon in front of his stall on a street behind the Id Kah Mosque, the largest mosque in China and a must-see for tourists in Kashgar.
The usually busy street aroused no excitement in him that day because he expected most shoppers, frightened by the lethal attacks that occurred in the city’s downtown over the weekend, would stay away.
“It would have been a booming summer for my business but now it has been all ruined by the rioters,” said the Uygur shop owner, who sells handicrafts made by his ethnic group to tourists. “I hate them.”
Before the attacks this weekend, Rouzwaikam used to earn at least 300 yuan ($47) a day in the summer.
“But since the shop opened on Wednesday, I’ve only got 30 yuan so far,” he told China Daily.
As a historic and famed city along the ancient Silk Road, Kashgar, whose population is mostly composed of members of the Uygur ethnic group, attracts millions of tourists from the mainland and abroad every year. The tourism industry plays an important role in the city’s economy.
And it has slowed noticeably, both in Kashgar and Xinjiang as a whole, following the two terror attacks that occurred this weekend in the city’s downtown, leaving 14 people dead and 42 others injured.
The terror attacks have caused “tremendous losses to the tourism industry here”, said Ye Jianxin, manager of the Kanghui Nature Travel Agency.
“The fax machines in our office kept beeping as they received cancellation and postponement notices from tourist groups from the rest of China and from foreign countries.
“After the attack on Saturday, six tours for groups were cancelled. After the next incident on Sunday, 20 others were called off.
“Until now, only one tour group from Australia has kept its order for September.”
Gao Yi, Party chief of the Kashgar tourism bureau, echoed Ye’s remarks.
He said the city this week has seen a sharp decline in the number of tourists who are coming there.
The Tomb of the Fragrant Imperial Concubine (Apak Hoja Mazzar), one of the city’s popular tourist attractions, used to welcome about 1,200 visitors a day on average but only welcomed about 350 on each of the past three days, Gao said.
Despite the decline, Gao insisted the harm to the city’s tourism industry will be “abrupt and temporary”.
“I don’t think the tourism slowdown will last for long,” he said. “Kashgar has tourism resources that are abundant, attractive and diverse. The terrorist attacks by a small group of rioters cannot stop our booming tourist industry.”
About 2,000 workers in the city’s tourism industry underwent training this week in workplace safety. The goal, Gao said, was to “offer safe and good services to tourists and attract more people to Kashgar”.
Nijat, who is in charge of the Chinese Youth Travel Agency in Xinjiang, said the weekend attacks have prompted changes to the routes of some of the tours that were to take travelers to Kashgar and its surroundings.
“We now suggest our customers skip Kashgar and visit the Narat grassland, Kanas and other scenic spots in northern Xinjiang,” he said. “It’s our top priority to guarantee the safety of our tourists.”
Chi Chongqing, Party chief of the Xinjiang tourism bureau, said on Wednesday that he was “very confident about Xinjiang’s tourism industry”.
The recent attacks in Hotan and Kashgar will not affect tourism goals, Chi said.
“Xinjiang covers one sixth of the country,” Chi said. “The terrorist attacks by a small group of rioters cannot change the general situation in the vast Xinjiang region. Terrorism cannot be eradicated in the short term, but nothing can stop the robust growth of Xinjiang.”
More than 423,500 foreign tourists visited Xinjiang in the first half of the year, a number that had risen by 20.84 percent from what it had been a year ago. During the same period, the number of domestic tourists who went there increased to 13.3 million, 32 percent higher than what it had been the year before, according to statistics from Xinjiang tourism bureau.
Looking into the future, the region aims to attract 1.3 million international tourists and 35 million domestic tourists in 2011 and bring in 36 billion yuan from tourism.
Except for restaurants owned by Uygurs, which are closed for the holy month of Ramadan, nearly every shop, restaurant and market in Kashgar reopened on Thursday. Nijat said the summer is the best time to travel in Xinjiang and, for that reason, his company and most travel agencies are preparing for brisk business later this month.