A view of the Pingshanhu Canyon in Zhangye City, Gansu Province. (Photo: VCG)
Authorities in Gansu province, home to multiple World Heritage Sites, are planning to tap into its rich tourism and cultural resources to aid its shift from an industrial base to a green development model.
Lin Duo, Party secretary of Gansu and top legislator, said the move could inject momentum into poverty relief endeavors in one of China's least developed regions, amid the national effort to eliminate rural poverty in time for the centennial of the Communist Party of China in 2021.
Lin said his office has been boosting Gansu's tourism sector with poor farmers in mind, and the approach has begun to reap benefits.
"Tours to some of the villages in the south of Gansu have been super popular," he said, adding the region's newly developed industries, when combined with a tourist boom, could play a vital role in winning the poverty battle in his jurisdiction.
Lin was speaking at a news conference in Beijing held by the State Council Information Office to outline Gansu's progress since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
The tourism sector has made notable progress over the past few years in Gansu, which possesses a wide range of landforms ranging from deserts to plateaus, and is widely considered a cradle of early Chinese civilization and a melting pot of cultures in the East and West. Among the World Heritage Sites are the Mogao Caves and a crucial juncture of the ancient Silk Road.
According to the provincial government, Gansu received 300 million visitors last year, taking in 200 billion yuan ($28.9 billion) in tourism revenue.
"The number of tourists has been growing rapidly in recent years, with the growth rate topping 20 percent for several consecutive years," said the Party secretary.
Despite the tourism boom, Gansu remains one of the most impoverished regions due to its harsh environment and poor infrastructure, posing a challenge to the zero-poverty goal set to be completed in about 18 months.
Provincial government figures show it was home to 12.5 million rural poor in the early 1980s, before China launched programs to develop its vast northwestern regions, and had a poverty rate above 75 percent.
Gansu is also home to several major deserts, and its lack of water has been a constraint on development for decades, adding to difficulties in poverty alleviation.
Lin said notable progress has been made on that front, especially since the central leadership stressed in 2013 that the province give priority to relief work.
By the end of last year, 5.81 million people living in rural parts of the province had shaken off poverty, with the poverty rate plummeting to 5.6 percent.
"Thirty-six of 75 poverty-stricken counties saw their underdeveloped labels removed last year, a leap forward to the zero-poverty goal," Lin said.