Clear skies may bring tourists to China

Clear skies may bring tourists to China

The good weather is continuing to bring clean air and blue skies to Beijing, and officials believe the fine spell will encourage more tourists from both home and abroad to visit the capital.

The number of tourists visiting Beijing fell steadily from 2012 to last year, according to an official at the Beijing Commission of Tourism Development.

Approximately 5 million tourists visited the city in 2012, the official said. In 2013, the figure was 4.5 million, and last year the total slipped to 4.27 million.

Air pollution was largely to blame for the decline, along with other factors such as the slow economic recovery in Europe and the US, the appreciation of the yuan and the expansion of the tourism markets in Japan, Thailand and South Korea, the official said.

"Media reports about the haze problem affected inbound tourists' choice of travel destinations," he added. "But the downward trend has been stopped."

There were 1.28 million inbound tourists in Beijing during the first four months of this year, roughly the same as the number recorded in the same period last year.

The number of tourists from South Korea rose by 22 percent year-on-year from January to April, and the number from Japan increased by 2 percent, he said.

The leveling-off has coincided with the launch of a number of initiatives to tackle air pollution.

"Fresh air and blue skies will surely help Beijing's image and spur tourism in the future," said Li Xiang, deputy head of atmospheric environment management at the Beijing Meteorological Bureau.

"Tourists can take more beautiful photos under the blue skies, and the better weather conditions will also erase their possible health concerns about air pollution."

Among the tourists enjoying the "Beijing Blue" sky was Mark Krull, 52, from Germany, who visited the Forbidden City with his wife on Friday.

"The gold-tiled roofs of the Imperial Palace glowed under the blue sky, which is beautiful," he said.

The couple are making their first visit to China, and had heard about the city's air pollution problem from friends and the media.

"But it didn't stop our passion to explore the Oriental culture and wonderful historical relics in Beijing," Krull said. "I believe people here are aware of the problem and are working hard to improve conditions.

"Our travel experience and photos will reflect those efforts and help to ease the concerns of others who want to visit Beijing."

The capital launched a five-year plan to tackle air pollution in 2013 and is investing 800 billion yuan (S$175 billion) in the program. Officials aim to reduce the density of PM2.5-airborne particles measuring 2.5 micrometers or less that can penetrate the lungs and harm health-by 20 percent by 2017.

Coal consumption in Beijing will decrease to less than 10 million metric tons in 2017 from 23 million in 2012, according to the plan.

In the first four months of the year, the city phased out more than 110,000 old vehicles-55 percent of the annual target-that generated excessive exhaust emissions.

The fine spell has prompted people to share photos of the blue skies on the Internet. Posts on the topic of "Beijing Blue Sky" had been viewed more than 5 million times on Sina Weibo by Friday afternoon.

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