SCO Forum 'Year of Tourism 2023' kicks off in Urumqi

With the country's westward opening-up strategy, Xinjiang, as a bridgehead in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), will play a greater role, Xu Guixiang, spokesperson for the Xinjiang regional government, told the Global Times on Thursday on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Forum "Year of Tourism 2023," which runs from November 23 to 26 in Urumqi, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Co-hosted by the SCO and the Xinjiang regional government, the forum aims to establish a platform to introduce measures supporting the tourism industry by member states, exchange advanced experiences in tourism development, discuss industry hot topics, and explore methods to overcome challenges, SCO Secretariat Deputy Secretary General Janesh Kain said at a briefing.

According to Kain, about 300 heads of tourism administrations, representatives of international organizations, officials and business leaders, experts in the field of tourism and diplomats from SCO member states will participate in the forum to discuss joint initiatives to support the tourism industry. Four thematic sections are planned at the forum: Tourism Potential of the SCO Space, Tourism Potential of the Xinjiang region, Promoting Sustainable Tourism, and Developing Tourism to Reduce Poverty.

When explaining why the forum is being held in Xinjiang, Xu explained that Xinjiang is a beautiful and magnificent place with abundant natural resources, and its people are warm and hospitable.

Hosting the SCO Forum "Year of Tourism 2023" in Xinjiang holds special and significant importance. This is an important measure to implement the spirit of the Inaugural China-Central Asia Summit, the Third BRI Forum for International Cooperation, and the 23rd Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the SCO, Xu noted.

He said that Xinjiang is an important part of the ancient Silk Road and a core area of the BRI. It is located at the hub of the Eurasian golden passage and serves as a gateway for China's opening to the west, he said.

Since the beginning of this year, officials of the Xinjiang regional Party committee have visited the five Central Asian countries, holding high-level meetings with officials of these countries, and achieving a series of practical results. This has sent a strong signal that Xinjiang's opening-up to the world is expanding. Officials from these countries have also visited Xinjiang to discuss friendly exchanges and practical cooperation, according to Xu.

This year has been a year of high-level visits, marking substantial progress in Xinjiang's opening to the world, Xu added.

Along with the intensive high-level exchanges, Xinjiang's opening-up to and cooperation with the outside world have ushered in new opportunities, including in the tourism industry.

According to Xu, from January to September this year, Xinjiang achieved regional GDP of 1.355 trillion yuan ($189.6 billion), a year-on-year increase of 6.1 percent. From January to October, Xinjiang received 243 million domestic and foreign tourists, a year-on-year increase of 101.38 percent, achieving total tourism revenue of 270.378 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 200.67 percent, a record high.

Xinjiang is located in Northwest China and has been relatively closed off in the past. With the implementation of China's westward opening-up strategy, Xinjiang has transformed from a relatively closed inland region into a frontier that is open to the west, Xu said.

Along with the country's implementation of the westward opening-up strategy, Xinjiang is embracing a rare opportunity, helped by special policy support for its development. For example, the State Council has approved the establishment of the Xinjiang Pilot Free Trade Zone, according to Xu.

"Xinjiang must firmly seize this rare opportunity and make significant contributions. We also believe that with the implementation of the westward opening-up strategy, Xinjiang, as a pioneer in the Belt and Road Initiative, will play a greater role," he said.

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