By Yuan Yanan
On December 28, 2019, the 5th Maritime Silk Road (Fuzhou) International Tourism Festival opened at the Strait International Conference and Exhibition Center in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian Province. Organized by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of China and the People’s Government of Fujian Province, the tourism festival this year highlights cooperation on building the Maritime Silk Road in terms of promoting culture and developing tourism. The event is scheduled to last for a month and close on January 31, 2020.
Nearly a thousand guests attended the opening ceremony including representatives of embassies and consulates of the 35 countries and regions along the Belt and Road, officials from tourism departments, participants from travel agencies and tourism investors.
Platform for Maritime Silk Road Tourism
Contrasting previous years, the tourism festival this year features parallel celebrations in various forms and locations. While a flash dance to the music of Mo Li Hua (Jasmine Flower), a popular Chinese folk song, is happening in Times Square in New York City, a photo exhibition showcasing Fuzhou’s culture and tourism along the Maritime Silk Road is taking place in Prato, Italy. At the same time, a big screen in the Gangnam District of Seoul screens a video introduction of the festival for the whole month. All these promotions are intended to serve as invitations to countries around the world to visit Fuzhou and learn more about its tourism and culture.
The global tourism festival embraces many celebrated musical elements from around the world. During the event, visitors will enjoy different art rhythms such as Spanish dances, African drumming shows and the lively Samba. Alongside passionate celebrations will be presentations of intangible cultural heritage items of Fujian Province and Fuzhou City as part of China’s determination to promote Chinese culture and tradition.
According to an official with Fuzhou Administration of Culture and Tourism, the 2020 tourism festival focuses more on international cooperation compared to previous years. Nearly a thousand guests gathered in Fuzhou to discuss ways to develop tourism along the Maritime Silk Road. The festival also serves as a platform for international exchange and improves quality of life in the city.
Guo Ningning, Deputy Governor of the People’s Government of Fujian Province, illustrated that the aim of the Maritime Silk Road International Tourism Festival is to facilitate opportunities for international cooperation on culture and tourism and invite the world to learn more about the province and share development opportunities.
Fujian Province is blessed with exceptional advantages for developing tourism and has become a popular destination for foreign tourists. Official data shows that the number of foreign tourists entering Fujian Province continuously increased from 2000 to 2018. In 2018, over 3.44 million foreign tourists visited the province as year-on-year growth hit 14.9 percent. Of them, around 2.21 million, or 64.2 percent, hailed from other Asian countries. With about 535,000 incoming tourists, Malaysia was ranked as the top source in Asia, followed by Japan (396,000) and Singapore (330,000).
The growing international significance of the tourism festival is expanding its brand appeal and scale effect. This year added exhibitions of tourism equipment as well as tourism attractions of Fujian Province, through which hundreds of travel agencies and tourist attractions are promoting hotel discounts and a variety of travel options for tourists.
Guo explained that the tourism festival is also a chance for Fujian Province to roll out preferential policies on culture-related travel including projects targeting Maritime Silk Road culture and promoting cooperation among cultural tourism regions to improve the quality of tourism along the Maritime Silk Road.
Maritime Silk Road Culture Going Global
One aim of the tourism festival is to tap the potential of Maritime Silk Road culture to drive the development of tourism. At the Maritime Silk Road Summit Forum for Cultural and Tourism Economics, many experts and scholars from China and abroad as well as entrepreneurs in the culture-related tourism industry conducted fruitful discussions on the possibilities and prospects of the trend. Liu Shuguang, former deputy director of the National Cultural Heritage Administration, and Wu Bihu, a professor at the College of Urban and Environmental Sciences of Peking University, delivered speeches on application for World Cultural Heritage status for Maritime Silk Road and preserving the maritime commerce culture of Fujian Province.
As an important hub of the ancient Maritime Silk Road, Fujian has a long history and retains rich historical relics related to the Maritime Silk Road. Quanzhou, the starting point of the Maritime Silk Road, is in the province and was also a major shipbuilding base during the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279- 1368) dynasties. It was considered the biggest harbor in the East back in the day. The area is also home to Yuegang Harbor, the departure port of the Maritime Silk Road in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and Taiping Harbor, a major stop of the expeditionary voyages commanded by Ming Admiral Zheng He in the 15th Century. The Belt and Road Initiative carries China’s history and culture, and Fujian Province, the starting point of the Maritime Silk Road, is endowed with advantages for promoting Belt and Road tourism.
To enhance the cultural image of the Maritime Silk Road, three cities in Fujian—Quanzhou, Zhangzhou and Putian—are working with eight other cities including Guangzhou, Ningbo and Nanjing to establish a cities alliance to preserve the Maritime Silk Road and apply for World Cultural Heritage status with UNESCO. Fujian Province has become committed to helping Maritime Silk Road culture go global. With support from the provincial government, International Exchange Centers of Fujian Culture (China) have been set up in Malaysia, the Philippines, Australia, Japan and Argentina, providing a window for the world to learn about the culture and tourism resources of the Maritime Silk Road in Fujian Province.
Lin Feng, vice chairman of the Fuzhou Municipal Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, explained that although Fujian has abundant cultural sites and relics of the Maritime Silk Road culture, the concept of developing the sector and building representative brands is still relatively new. Development demands an alliance integrating domestic and foreign forces to drive Maritime Silk Road tourism and facilitate integrated development among industries and regions. Many countries including China, Indonesia, Greece and Japan have embraced the potential of ancient attractions, and Lin believes now is an opportune moment for China to pursue cooperation and develop a number of tourism products so that more people and countries can share the fruits.