Pandas, as global ambassadors, attract millions to western megacity


Pandas, as global ambassadors, attract millions to western megacity

United Nations World Tourism Organization delegates with one of the locals.[ Peng Chao / China Daily]

As China’s national symbol, giant pandas have visited 15 countries and are renowned as the country’s cutest diplomat. Their international mission will soon be upgraded, with a high-tech approach to interacting with their fans via virtual reality technology.

The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding signed a long-term strategic partnership agreement with Baofeng New Culture in July.

The two will work together in developing panda-themed virtual reality and augmented reality content.

The breeding center in Chengdu was home to 176 pandas at the end of last year. It is the world’s largest breeding panda population, said Zhang Zhihe, its director.

Nearly 4 million tourists visit the center each year, 80 percent of them from outside Sichuan.

“The panda center has become the best tourist destination for people from around the world to learn about pandas,” Zhang said.

Under the agreement, the two parties will complete a panda-themed virtual reality park, the first of its kind, at the breeding center at the end of this year.

The new attraction is designed to use virtual reality and augmented reality technologies to add and improve the interactive experiences on offer.

In addition, an international pandathemed holiday resort is also in the pipeline.

The local government and Sichuan Provincial Investment Group signed a 20.8 billion yuan ($3.1 billion) deal to establish the resort in Dujiangyan, a county-level city under the administration of Chengdu, in July.

The city is named after the Dujianyan Irrigation System built more than 2,200 years ago, which is still in service. It is the location for the Panda Valley, a research institute created by the center to train captive-bred pandas, adapting them to a wild environment.

The new themed holiday resort will revolve around the Panda Valley, comprising a Kung Fu Panda park and healthcare-themed towns.

Centering on the project, a cluster of businesses in the creative industry will be introduced to the city, local officials said.

Sichuan will launch a panda-themed travel route to attract international visitors during the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-20). It will start from the Chengdu breeding center and link other panda habitats and scenic sites, including Panda Valley, Siguniang Mountain and Bifeng Gorge in Ya’an.

But Sichuan has far more than pandas.

Among the other attractions on offer are world heritage sites such as Taoist shrine Qingcheng Mountain; the Jinsha archeological site that reveals Sichuan’s civilization origin, which can be traced back 3,000 years; and the well-preserved ancient compound Kuanzhai Alleys. These sites are all drawing increasing numbers of tourists.

Ancient buildings in the city include the Wuhou Shrine, featuring the Three Kingdoms (220-280) culture and a former residence of the noted poet Du Fu from the Tang Dynasty (618-907), also providing a glimpse into the city’s rich history and culture.

As the first UNESCO city of gastronomy in Asia, Chengdu has hosted an annual international culinary tourism festival since 2004.

Local intangible cultural heritage items also add charm to the city in the international tourism market, including the stunts of face changing and fire spitting in Sichuan Opera.

The city received more than 93.8 million visits in the first half of this year, bringing in revenue of about 129.5 billion yuan.

The number of tourist arrivals is projected to rise to 205 million by the end of the year, 3 million from abroad, bringing in about 300 billion yuan, the city government says.

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