In pursuit of high-end tourism

chinaAlready a popular destination among domestic travellers attracted to its cultural heritage sites and scenic spots, what else does Leshan need to attract the international high-end clientele?

As Sichuan and its provincial capital Chengdu become increasingly popular destinations on the international travel circuit, the Chinese trade is also observing a marked interest in Leshan, a city located about a two-hour drive from Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport.

Close to Leshan are the UNESCO World Heritage Cultural and Natural Sites of Mount Emei Scenic Area, which includes the 3,099m Mount Emei and the 8th century Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area, as well as Mount Qingcheng.

Last year marked a turning point in Leshan’s tourism development with the opening of the Anantara Emei Resort & Spa in April and the launch of the inaugural Sichuan International Travel Expo in September. The city also hosted the PATA Annual Summit in April this year.

More buzz will be created for the region with the entry of Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain, which soft-opened in mid-June and will officially open in September. It is one hour away from Chengdu and two hours away from Leshan.

Access to Leshan is easy as Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport is served by domestic carriers as well as international airlines like AirAsia, All Nippon Airways, Asiana Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Etihad Airways, KLM, SilkAir and Thai Airways International.

In addition, a high-speed train takes travellers from the Chengdu airport to Leshan in under an hour.

Bo Wu, PATA regional director – Greater China, said the availability of natural and man-made attractions in Leshan is a boon to developing high-end heritage and culture in the destination.

More work on the software is needed though, remarked several industry members.

Linda Wang, managing director, Destination Asia (China), said: “Sichuan is up-and-coming and Leshan definitely has the potential with Anantara Emei Resort & Spa and Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain.

“There are good products for high-end heritage and culture tourism, and the infrastructure is in place. But when we propose a high-end programme, we have to send a tour director from Beijing or Chengdu who is fluent in English.”

Kris Van Goethem, Asian Trails China managing director, pointed out that Mount Emei is “busy with domestic tourists”, driven by a huge domestic demand for Leshan from Chengdu on weekends and during the national holidays.

However, Mount Emei is not a priority for Asian Trails China’s upmarket clientele. So far, the DMC has been promoting Leshan as a day trip from Chengdu for a 500-pax UK group series that contributes about 20 to 40 people per group.

The availability of better operational options will therefore make Leshan more appealing to high-end tourists from abroad, he said.

“Good buses are limited and the boats on the river to view the Giant Buddha in its entirety are old, while the entrance fee to Mount Emei – RMB300 (US$48) – and staying at Anantara are not cheap.

“Mount Emei and Leshan are significant (destinations) in China’s domestic tourism but still in the shadow as far as international visitors are concerned,” Van Goethem observed.

“To sell to high-end international tourists, we can plan a three-day programme with accommodation at Anantara or Hongzhu Shan Hotel, and take them hiking in the less crowded middle part of Mount Emei and visit Bifengxia Panda Center in Ya’an.”

Van Goethem said self-drive holidays are big with the domestic market and the influx of domestic incentives and meeting business is expected to be the next development for Leshan.

This article was first published in TTG Asia, August 7, 2015 issue, on page 20. To read more, please view our digital edition or click here to subscribe.

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