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Chinese tourist hotspots bemoan lack of foreigners
BEIJING (Reuters) - Leaders from two of China's tourist hotspots complained on Thursday that more needed to be done to attract the high-spending foreign visitors who have transformed economies in rival destinations such as Thailand.
The tropical southern resort island of Hainan and the lush southwestern province of Yunnan attract millions of domestic tourists every year, but still only a trickle of foreigners, especially compared with rivals such as Indonesia's Bali.
Hainan, once a lonely place of exile that now styles itself as China's Hawaii, played host to 750,000 foreign visitors last year, a number dwarfed by the nearly 18 million domestic tourists who came to soak up the sun.
"I think that in places like Sanya, the facilities and scenery match up well to Phuket, Bali or Hawaii," said Wei Liucheng, Hainan's Communist Party boss, referring to the island's main beach resort.
"The reason for tourism's poor performance is that in the past facilities were not good enough," he told reporters on the sidelines of China's annual meeting of parliament.
"Publicity work is also not good enough. Europeans and Japanese have heard of Phuket, Bali and Hawaii, but know nothing of the joys of Hainan. We must make more efforts in this regard," Wei added.
The central government has invested billions of dollars on infrastructure, hoping in part to open poorer parts of the country to tourism and bring in much needed extra income to China's vast and underdeveloped countryside.
Yet package tours on charter flights from Europe proved unpopular, as has an experiment with "open skies" for foreign airlines.
And a television ad in English for Hainan looks good -- expect the narrator manages to pronounce the island's name more like "Henan", a gritty inland province better known for being a source of migrant workers and a centre of China's AIDS epidemic.
"We have a lot of work to do when it comes to service too, in terms of foreign language ability, shopping and lack of golf courses," Wei said. "These are problems we have to solve."
Yunnan's Party chief, Bai Enpei, also complained the province has not done enough to promote itself, despite its spectacular scenery and colorful ethnic minorities.
"We want to tell the world about Yunnan, about its beauty, and attract more tourists. We want to make tourism a pillar of our industry," he told Reuters. "We're a big tourist province, but not a strong one."
The government now wants to promote Yunnan as a "health" destination, Bai said, capitalizing on its clean environment and comfortable year-round climate.
"We don't just want people to come who are only going to tour round the main sights, look at the scenery and then go," he added.
"We have to totally tap our advantages in terms of ethnic minorities and the climate. Come and stay for two weeks, or a month. We're going in this direction."
(Editing by Alex Richardson)
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