The Splendid Pearl of the Silk Road: Now and Future of Tourism in Kashgar

By Ge Qu, Ziming Cheng and Yunya Lin

” Xinjiang is a great place, not coming to Kashgar means you haven’t been to Xinjiang.” This kind of slogan can be seen in major tourist attractions in Kashgar.

Kashgar, as the main route of the Silk Road and an international business hub where domestic and foreign business people gather, is very diverse in culture. It’s a place that blends Eastern and Western civilizations. It also has strong ethnic characteristics and unique natural landscapes. This makes Kashgar undoubtedly a “diamond in the rough” in the tourism industry.

Under the strategy of “Tourism Revitalizing Xinjiang”, Kashgar is constantly developing local tourism, and two very important support parties are the government departments and social media.

Governmental Efforts Developing Kashgar’s Tourism Industry

Currently, many government departments in Kashgar have been promoting tourism in all aspects.

Firstly, Kashgar is working towards perfecting the infrastructure.

Kashgar is an area prone to earthquakes. The houses and buildings in the old town are built a long time ago, therefore putting the residents in danger. Reconstruction is essential to make the old town a safe and qualified tourist sight. 

In 2010, Kashgar’s old town comprehensive reconstruction project came into operation. The houses were constructed with an aseismic design to cope with potential earthquakes, and the alleys were broadened to make space for emergency exits, greatly improving the safety of the old town. This project made different designs for every building to accommodate the needs of every household whilst maintaining the original cultural style.

After a series of reconstructions, in 2015, Kashgar’s old town became a national 5A tourist attraction and has about 3600 stores, welcoming tourists everywhere with a new look.

Moreover, this year, Kashgar also made changes in terms of transportation, as the special tourist train started its maiden run on the 24th of July. This train is the first nonstop (two-stationed) train with berths that drives between Urumchi and Kashgar. It is the only direct express train in Xinjiang and can reach the destination in 11 hours and 30 minutes. This way of travel consumes less time and prevents having to switch transportation midway, which attracts more tourists from Urumchi to Kashgar.

(The special tourist train drives between Urumchi and Kashgar   Source: Photo Center)

Other than improving the infrastructure and transportation, Kashgar culture and tourism departments host promotional events in different cities every year and collaborate with the city’s local tourism companies offering various incentives to attract tourists.

For instance, a promotional event was hosted in September 2020 in Shanghai, with the theme “Aid Xinjiang through the Silk Road, Kashgar and Shanghai became family”. During this promotional event, Shanghai Aid to Xinjiang FrontCommand signed the charter project with Spring Airlines. Also, the Kashgar Bureau of Culture, Radio, Television, and Tourism jointly signed a cooperation agreement with several travel agencies in Shanghai. This agreement hopes to organize more people in Shanghai to visit Kashgar.

In 2021, Kashgar hosted a promotional event with the slogan “Xinjiang is a great place—not coming to Kashgar means you haven’t been to Xinjiang”. During the event, Kashgar proposed 12 common tourism routes and 4 road trip routes so that tourists can enjoy a different experience of the scenery and culture.

Meanwhile, Kashgar culture and tourism departments and Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangdong, and Shandong Aid to Kashgar Front Command signed tourism marketing strategic cooperation agreements with many companies related to the tourism industry such as Group Limited, China Southern Airlines, The Coca-Cola Company, Shanghai Tourism Trade Association, Shandong Association of Travel Services, Guangdong Tourism Association, Shenzhen Tourism Association, Meituan Tickets, etc.

In July 2022, a promotional event in Shenzhen was hosted by Kashgar Administrative Office and Shenzhen Aid to Xinjiang Front Command. This event provided tourists from Shenzhen (to Kashgar) with many discounts, such as a 40% off discount on the ticket to tourist attractions and a free birthday gift for the tourists who come with the Shenzhen travel agency.

(Promotional Event hosted in Shenzhen    Source: Shenzhen News Net)

As for its future, Kashgar is working towards building a reputation of the “Silk Road and Minority Culture Sights”.

On July 22-23 of 2022, a tourism development conference was held in Kashgar,which focused on the planning of cultural and tourism projects, the establishment of the region’s image, and the construction of the infrastructure. At the conference, 12 cultural and tourism projects totaling 780 million RMB were signed.

Social Media Promoting Tourism Development in Kashgar

Besides strong governmental assistance, social media also plays an important role in developing the tourism industry. Social media enables everyone to access the newest information, create content, and popularize trending tourist sights.

For tourists, travel information is no longer monopolized by travel agencies, as it once was. People can search for their desired destinations and make a travel plan on their own, which would make their vacation more customized and active. This greatly improves tourists’ travel experiences.

Many tourists state that before coming to Kashgar, they may search for tourist sights through APPs like Little Red Book, Douyin, Weibo, and Mafengwo to see whether the place is worth visiting, what are its drawbacks, and lastly decide on the travel route.

For businesses, social media is a cost-effective and personalized way to attract customers. Stores in Kashgar’s old town are using different platforms to promote their products and traditions. For example, the old town’s Douyin official account has posted videos on traditional dance, trending tourist sights, and other culture-related things. Currently, this account has already gained 2.81million likes and 222,000 followers.

(Kashgar’s Old Town, Yunya Lin)

In Kashgar’s old town, a bakery shop sells products through Douyin live streams. They’ve also set up a WeChat group for regular customers to advertise their new products. Customers can place orders in the WeChat group, and the shop owner will courier the pastries and snacks to the guests.

Also, an owner of a carpet store in the old town operates his own Little Red Book account, updating pictures of carpets with the introduction of the texture, patterns, and place of production. Even before this store’s sign board was hung up, a couple who saw his posts on Little Red Book flew all the way from Guangzhou to visit his store.  

At the same time, many trip-shoot store photographers pose their works on Little Red Book to attract more potential customers. Now if people search for the keyword ” Kashgar trip shoot” in Little Red Book they will be able to see many different stores posting pictures of their previous guests. One of the trip shoot stores founded in 2018 has been posted consistently. Lots of people were checking their accounts. By now, they have more than 26 thousand likes and close to ten thousand subscribers. 

A lady who came to Kashgar for the second time said she was planning to find a local trip shoot store inside the old town. But after arrival, she noticed most of the store had been fully booked. 

With the power of government and social media, this year Kashgar’s all-platform search volume has dramatically increased. According to the Baidu Index, the keyword “Kashgar traveling” has marked the record in two years. Official data show that in the first half of this year, Kashgar welcomed 8.88million visitors, an increase of 2.81% year on year, and achieved 5.91billion RMB in tourist income. 

(In July 2022, “Kashgar Tourism” keyword Baidu’s search number reached a new high  Source: Baidu Index)

The Future: Rural Tourism Development

Although many tourists visit the major tourist attractions in Kashgar, the countryside around Kashgar is also unique in its tranquility and simplicity. In the context of the “ Rural Revitalization” strategy, the mode of revitalizing rural areas through tourism has emerged. Rural tourism has also become a new field of tourism development in Kashgar.

Kashgar encourages counties and cities to actively develop key rural tourism villages and enrich the forms of rural tourism. Four villages in the whole Kashgar region are selected in the second batch of Key Villages for Rural Tourism in the Autonomous Region. 

At the same time, other villages and towns in Kashgar are also actively involved in promoting tourism. With the support of the Shenzhen-Kashgar Social Work Station, five family farms in the NO.18 village of Baishikeranmu town around Kashgar City started to develop agritourism.

Shenzhen-Kashgar Social Work Station is the first professional social work services organization led by the government in South Xinjiang.

The Shenzhen-Kashgar Social Work Station provided different support for these five family farms. Since June 2020, the Shenzhen-Kashgar Social Work Station has invested a total of 120,000 RMB to renovate family farms’ courtyards, toilets, kitchens, and plantations. The five families did their best to participate in the renovation, and some farmers even paid themselves for further renovation.

(The decoration and transformation of a household   Source: Explorer)

In terms of skills training, the Shenzhen-Kashgar Social Work Station has offered reception etiquette, safety knowledge, and cooking training with five courses for each. The simulation training can make the operation more standardized and professional.

From November 2021, the agritainment attractions started to open. Tourists can experience a variety of activities there, such as making naan, riding a donkey cart, picking fruits, watching traditional singing and dancing performances, and trying local costumes. When talking about the significance of developing agritourism, the manager of Shenzhen-Kashgar Social Work Station said: ” Agritourism allows farmers to gain profits and tourists to know more about the local culture.”

Although agritourism has great potential for development, it still faces difficulty in the process. In the past, since Mandarin education has not been widely popularized in Kashgar, the farmers are not very proficient in Mandarin. It is difficult for Han Chinese visitors to communicate with them directly, which needs young people who can speak both Mandarin and Uyghur to translate. The staff at Shenzhen-Kashgar Social Work Station also said that the biggest difficulty in the development of agritourism in Baishikeranmu town is the language barrier.

(The renovated grape trellis   source: Explorer)

However, this problem will be solved with the further development of agritourism. In order to attract customers and increase competitiveness, farmers will take the initiative to learn Mandarin. Whether in communicating with guests or in the Mandarin training courses offered by the village committee, farmers can exercise and learn basic Mandarin. As more and more tourists come to Baishikeranmu town, communication will no longer be a problem.

For beautiful Kashgar, the government and social media are bringing her more visitors. In the villages with strong local ethnic culture, farmers are looking forward to the arrival of tourists. With the support of both the government and social media, whether in cities or villages, this Pearl of the Silk Road will continue to shine splendidly, attracting more people to come and explore her charm.


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