Meeting planners looking for a completely new group experience should check out the Silk Road, which is quickly gaining traction as a tourist destination in China. Today, the Silk Road is more than just an ancient 4,000-mile-long path that camel-riding merchants once used to bring silk and porcelain from China to Western Europe about 2,000 years ago. Its recent designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the building of a new highway make it more attractive to groups then ever. As such, the China National Tourist Office declared 2015 the year of Silk Road tourism.
In June 2014, UNESCO named a large part of the road (about 164.7 square miles) a World Heritage Site. This section consists of 33 historical sites—22 in China, eight in Kazakhstan and three in Kyrgyzstan —that include palaces and pagodas in cities to ruins in remote deserts. For example, groups can visit Longmen Grottoes (or Longmen Caves), which houses as many as 100,000 statues of Buddha and his disciples within the 1,400 caves located in China’s Henan province. Other highlights include the famous Terracotta Army at the Terracotta Warriors Museum or the Daming Palace, the imperial place complex of the Tang Dynasty—both of which are located in present-day Xi’an.
Kazakhstan recently spent billions of U.S. dollars to revive the old route by building a highway connecting China’s Khorgos in Xinjiang to St. Petersburg, Russia via Kazakhstan that will become operational this year. Not only will the road serve as an opportunity for trade and commerce between the countries along the road, it will help enhance tourism in the area.
Last year, a board of experts joined together in Xinjiang, including representatives of the Ministry of Tourism of Xinjiang, to discuss the expansion of tours along the Silk Road, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. Such excursions would start in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, then run through China’s Kashgar, into Uzbekistan, and then return to Almaty in Kazakhstan. The UNWTO Silk Road Programme is also working to develop tourism for the local Silk Road communities, and it is now working with 30 member states.
“We want to bring the Silk Road in Xinjiang to the world, and to let the world see that all ethnic peoples living in this region are enjoying happy lives,” says Xinyuan County Official Jia Yisheng. “The listing of the Silk Road has given us a great honor, and we have a duty to protect and develop the beautiful environment and culture of Narat.”