On the final day of 2015, one of Yunnan's iconic scenic areas passed a milestone. The four millionth visitor of the year entered the Stone Forest. She was presented with a golden key and commemorative sash while park employees hoisted her onto their shoulders.
The large rise in tourist numbers last year has been attributed to wholesale "renovations and upgrades to tourist facilities" overseen by scenic area management. Coinciding with the improvements, Stone Forest administrators sent eight public relations teams across China over the past two years in an attempt to popularize the UNESCO World Heritage Karst formations domestically.
'Renovation' may be the wrong word, as many of the improvements to the sprawling tourist attraction involved demolishing old, outdated buildings. This was done because several maintanance structures "marred or blocked entirely" some of the more popular sights. The largest project involved moving an entire Yi minority village — called Five Trees — to a new location.
Improvements also included redesigning public buildings, upgrading bathroom facilities and repaving roads. Funds were also set aside to upgrade security and ticketing systems and building a new museum explaining the region's unique geography and topography. The Stone Forest also modernized its fleet of sightseeing vehicles by purchasing dozens of electronic and eco-friendly cars
Park officials expect visitors will continue to increase next year, reflecting a trend that has seen tourist numbers increase dramatically over the past decade. In 2010, an estimated two million paying customers entered the Stone Forest. The following year visits increased by almost 50 percent, eventually doubling over five years. Revenue projections released by management officials predict five million annual visitors by 2020 and yearly revenue to surpass ten billion yuan (US$1.54 billion).
Editor's note: This article is based on a press release published on social media outlet Weixin.
Top image: Shafir
Bottom image: Weixin