Although the snowstorms have finally abated, the country's tourism industry could take several months to fully recover, a senior official has said.
As a result of the freezing weather, which paralyzed the transport network and crippled power grids across southern China, at least 300,000 tourists, including 60,000 foreigners, have canceled scheduled trips, Shao Qiwei, head of the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA), said in a press release published on Friday.
More than 1,600 tourist attractions have been forced to suspend operations, and countless forests, parklands, recreational facilities and other public services for tourists have been ruined, he said.
"The losses are big," Shao said.
"Our calculations put the total economic loss to the tourism industry at $6.97 billion yuan ($976 million), as of Feb 9," he said.
Of the 19 provinces affected by the fierce weather, Guizhou and Hunan were two of the worst hit, Shao said.
Tourism revenue in Guizhou during the weeklong Spring Festival was down 63 percent on last year, while Hunan saw its figures slump by 31 percent, he said.
"Local authorities and tourism companies have started their recovery work, but the effect of the disaster on the market might last for longer than we thought," the press release said.
Many factors will affect the speed at which the industry recovers, Shao said.
As well as the time needed to rebuild and repair infrastructure, the confidence of tourists will have to be restored, so that they start thinking about traveling again, he said.
The zero temperatures not only caused havoc for transport operators, they also froze many people's enthusiasm for traveling anywhere.
And people remain concerned, despite temperatures rising significantly in many of the affected areas.
Ye Ruozhou, a college tutor from Beijing, said: "I am still haunted by all the terrible images of ice and snow, and the hundreds of thousands of people stranded by blizzards on the roads and at railway stations."
Shao called on tourism departments and business operators in affected areas to do all they can to deal with the myriad difficulties.
He said the CNTA will do all it can to stimulate the market through increased promotional and advertising activity, both at home and in neighboring countries such as Japan and South Korea.
But there must be no rush to reopen tourist attractions, he said.
Operators must ensure there is no threat to tourists' safety from damaged buildings or melting ice at their facilities, Shao said.
(China Daily February 23, 2008)