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Tourism parade to shine spotlight on Songjiang
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Eastern China's largest amusement park and an underground luxury hotel are just some of the reasons tourists are expected to flock to the pristine landscape of suburban Songjiang this month.

Songjiang is getting a rare chance to show and tell what the northwestern Shanghai district is all about at the annual Shanghai Tourism Festival, which officially opens today. For the first time in 20 years, the grand fair is making its way to a suburban district rather than staying only in the city's downtown.

A parade filled with floats and loud music kicked things off tonight on Huaihai Road. The parade will tour the city and make its way to Songjiang on Sept 25 before heading to neighboring cities.

Songjiang was given the chance to shine at this year's tourism festival because of its steady hand in the development of the city's tourism industry, according to Li Wenzhong, director of the Commerce and Tourism Commission of Songjiang. The department also wanted to bring the gala to Shanghai's outlying areas, he added.

As the home of Sheshan resort, one of only a dozen national tourism resorts, Songjiang recently welcomed Happy Valley Amusement Park. As such, one of the floats in the parade was modeled on the park's Fireball wooden roller coaster.

Once a major farming area, Songjiang has over the past 30 years developed into an enormous industrial area. It now produces over 20 percent of the world's PCs. It is also a major manufacturing area of household products ranging from interior dcor materials to furniture. Also renowned for its various food and beverage brands, Songjiang supplies China with Tsingtao beer, Lay's chips and Nestle products.

But Li admitted that in its rush to open its local market, the district has made mistakes at the expense of its natural resources, a problem officials are now working to address.

"We don't want to give priority to large power-consuming plants and polluting-projects," he said. "It's time to shift the emphasis of our development to the service industries and improve people's quality of life."

Li said the district wants to take the Shanghai Expo slogan of "Better City, Better Life" and use it to help educate tourists.

"We have beautiful hills and creeks and also a rich cultural heritage. Songjiang has much more greenery than downtown Shanghai so the air quality is better here. We also have Happy Valley for more active tourists and the Chenshan National Botanical Garden for those who enjoy some peace and quiet," he added.

Songjiang is also working on other tourism projects to lure more visitors in the future.

By 2012, the district will feature 10 five-star hotels. One of these will be built 87 m below ground, making it the deepest underground hotel in the world. Another will incorporate the hot springs discovered in recent years at the foot of Sheshan Hill. With just 99 rooms, it will serve as a boutique hotel for high-end clients, said Li.

To avoid repeating past mistakes, Li said the local district government was treading carefully in applying the new projects.

"We tore down some antique buildings, but later when we learned about the importance of protecting the landscape of our ancient water town it was difficult to bring back what we had lost," said Li. "Now we are doing everything we can to protect our cultural relics and ancient buildings."

(China Daily September 16, 2009)

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