GUIZHOU, October 18, China Daily -- The precipitous terrain that was once the biggest obstacle to Guizhou's development is generating opportunities to overcome poverty as it lures visitors, Yang Fan and Yan Weijue report, on China's National Day of Poverty Alleviation, which falls today.
Guizhou province's undulating topography has long sculpted its fight against poverty into an uphill battle in every sense - but the very mountains that had blocked prosperity are today generating it through tourism.
Indeed, the sheer karst peaks, sweeping gorges and gushing waterfalls that shape this swath of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau in Southwest China have made transportation construction difficult. But their magnificent beauty compels a growing number of visitors.
About 11.5 million people - a third of Guizhou's population - lived below the poverty line by the end of 2011, official figures show.
Top: Karst peaks and sweeping gorges that shape the special topography of Guizhou compel a growing number of visitors. Above left: A Bouyei woman plays the traditional instrument, the yueqin, in a performance. Above right: An ethnic Bouyei woman and a foreigner participate in the bamboo dance in Zhenfeng county in Guizhou'sQianxinanBouyeiandMiao autonomous prefecture. Photos Provided to China Daily and by Xinhua
The number dropped to 4.9 million by the end of last year.
That's largely because local authorities declared a war on poverty several years ago, unveiling an array of measures ranging from subsidies to startup supports. But tourism has proven one of the most effective weapons in its arsenal.
The State Council outlined goals for Guizhou's tourism in a 2012 guideline. These included building Guizhou into a globally famous tourist destination, a leisure resort and a "vital platform for cultural exchange".
Transportation has proven key. Guizhou spent 410 billion yuan ($68 billion) weaving all of its 88 county-level regions into a highway network according to the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15).
It also opened high-speed rail lines that link the province to such major metropolises as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Ten airports in Guizhou serve all nine prefecture-level divisions.
Transportation improvements lured 376 million tourists in 2015.
They generated 351 billion yuan in revenue - 96 billion yuan more than the previous year. Tourism has become Guizhou's pillar industry, accounting for 9.2 percent of its GDP last year.
The sector is expected to create over 500,000 jobs in Guizhou, pulling at least 1 million people out of poverty by 2020, Governor Sun Zhigang says.
He made the remark at the 2016 International Conference of Mountain Tourism and Outdoor Sports in Xingyi in Guizhou'sQianxinanBouyei and Miao autonomous prefecture late last month.
"Developing mountain tourism is direly needed for poverty-relief efforts, especially for places like Guizhou with abundant mountains," says Wei Xiaoan of the World Tourism Cities Federation.
Marketing relies heavily on mountains and programs focused on sightseeing, leisure, sports, education and health.
Highlighting different destinations' unique characteristics is vital to the tourism boom, he believes.
"Don't underestimate mountain tourism," he says.
"Take Guizhou - its tourism consists of ... mountains, ethnic diversity and rural scenery."
Qianxinan is a hidden gem in southwestern Guizhou. It's home to 36 ethnic groups and rich biodiversity. Experts say Xingyi's natural offerings endow it with the potential to become a world-class destination like Queenstown in New Zealand and Champery in Switzerland.
"In tourism, being less-developed and inaccessible often increases a land's value. And mountains are the most valuable destinations," says Wang Zhigang, a strategy consultant for Qianxinan.
The prefecture is building facilities for downhill skiing, bungee jumping, rock climbing, rafting, hot-air ballooning and skydiving to accommodate growing demand from around the globe.
Local authorities have pledged to upgrade transportation and enhance accommodation capacity while protecting the environment in the coming years.