Happiest city looks to attract more tourists with myriads of attractions

China Daily: US Edition, 2014-06-16

Qingdao hopes to transform its oldest port area into an international pleasure cruise hub.

The city, regularly voted in the top 10 of China's most livable cities because of its clean streets and laid-back atmosphere, is also highly popular with overseas tourists. Last year the China Institute of City Competitiveness voted Qingdao the country's "happiest city".

Sixty-two million people, foreign and domestic, visited the city last year, generating 93 billion yuan ( $14.9 billion ) for the local economy.

As city officials retune the local economy to draw more on its maritime resources, port officials plan to invest heavily in revamping one of its oldest port areas to become a seafaring tourist destination.

International cruise lines have eyed Qingdao as a docking location since 2011 after 1 billion yuan was allocated to renovate facilities to accommodate cruise ships.

Since then international companies such as Carnival Corp of the US have scheduled occasional stops. The cruise ship Diamond Princess, which services Asia and Australia , is among a handful of ships that regularly berth in the city.

Yao Shuqing , deputy director of Qingdao Port International Co Ltd , says it hopes to double or even triple the number of ships stopping in the city in the years to come.

"We want to become an official stop for cruisers by building a professional service industry for the city. At the moment the port makes no money from the cruises that stop here. But they are a great source of support and promotion for Qingdao . The idea is to build on that and create a port that generates both income and interest in the city from foreign travelers."

The city received a huge publicity fillip when it hosted sailing events during the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and has since received additional exposure from several international sailing events.

The city has been a holiday attraction for Chinese since the 1920s, with its sandy beaches regarded as among the country's best.

But it is perhaps the city's namesake beer, Tsingtao, that is most closely associated with it.

The beer was first made by German settlers in Qingdao in 1903, and an annual beer festival generates a huge buzz for the second-tier city. Last year, the eight-day festival, held since 1991, drew more than 3.96 million people who consumed 1,200 tons of beer. This year's festival opens on Aug 9 .

But even as Qingdao revels in its seaside setting, there are plenty of other things to catch the eye in the city, including redevelopment in the downtown area, the city's greenery and its hills and mountains.

The city's Badaguan Forest Park has undergone massive renovation in a push to emphasize its botanical and geographical diversity, and hosted the recent International Horticulture Expo.

The permanent installation, with a botanical garden boasting 2,000 plant species from across the globe, is expected to draw millions of visitors.

" The Qingdao Botanical Pavilion is one of the best in the world," says Mike Browell , a UK -based architect, who helped design the pavilion after seeing the finished product for the first time in May. "It is amazing that so many precious trees and flowers from all over the world can be seen in one pavilion. Lots of detailed work was done to make it a successful expo."

The 1,133-meter Laoshan Mountain , the highest coastal mountain in China and only 30 kilometers from downtown Qingdao , draws thousands of domestic tourists each year.

( China Daily USA 06/16/2014 page15)