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Boao: From Fishing Town to Conference Venue
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"It's so beautiful here, it is an enchanting town," Li Li, a tourist from Beijing, commented, as he stood in Boao , a small town in South China's island province of Hainan.

Li was among the numerous tourists enjoying the sun, fresh air, beaches, sea and the abundance of golf courses.

Boao , once a town of 15,000 residents relying on fishing and farming to make a living, has turned into a world-famous conference venue after an Asian-oriented forum on economic development selected it as the permanent venue in 2000.

"The tranquil fishing port used to be recognized only by local people, now it attracts the world elite," said Xu Zhenhuan, 77, a retired lighthouse keeper who safeguarded Boao for half a century.

Xu is very proud of the equipment he used in the lighthouse in the 1990s, but the town has become more and more digitalized in recent years to serve the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) and throngs of visitors both from home and abroad.

Flocks of tourists were busy taking photos in different scenic spots of Boao on Thursday, especially the site of BFA, as the place will be filled with some 1,300 political, business and cultural celebrities and journalists on Friday when the forum kicks off its three-day annual meeting.

BFA, a platform for the exchange of views among top leaders of government and businesses, has played a key role in enabling decision makers to have in-depth discussions and an understanding of the most critical issues of the region.

More than 400 domestic and international conferences and exhibitions have been held here since 2000, said Wang Huiya, secretary of Boao 's committee of the Communist Party of China.

Nearly 20 projects, including some with foreign sponsors, have been launched over the past four years, involving some 300 million yuan (US$37.5 million), thanks to Boao 's growing prestige, according to Wang.

The forum has also changed the lifestyles of local residents, as many rural labors are running restaurants and hotels or seeking job opportunities in urban areas, hosting an average of 5,000 tourists every day.

More people from other regions across China have also settled here to operate tourist and service businesses, pushing the population in the town to 30,000.

"Boao is destined for a bright future," Wang said.

Xu Dafu, son of Xu, chose to be a lighthouse keeper like his father.

"I want to keep an eye on the rapid changes in Boao and navigate for world visitors," said Dafu.

(Xinhua News Agency April 21, 2006)

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