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FEATURE STORY: Tianjin-One of China’s Top Tourist Destinations of the Future?
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With plenty of historical areas, parks, museums, and other activities and sites, Tianjin is a romantic city with a unique character. Walk around the Hai He at night and you can witness the charm and allure of the city as the bright lights accentuate the 19-20th century European architecture. Unfortunately, many people who come to visit China don't add Tianjin to their itinerary. Of the 133 million visitors to China during 2012, only 1.6% of them came to visit Tianjin. Figure 1 shows the top 20 destinations for foreign tourists in China in 2011. Surprisingly, Tianjin did not make the cut. This could all change in the future as Tianjin has been investing in high quality tourist attractions that will surely help boost the city’s effort to turn into a premier tourist destination in China. Since 2010, the number of tourists who have come to visit Tianjin has been increasing rapidly. According to Tianjin Tour, the amount of foreign visitors to Tianjin increased by 28.5% from 2010 to 2012. The amount of money generated through tourism in Tianjin during 2012 was USD 2.15 billion, approximately 1% of Tianjin's GDP.
The Tianjin Tourism Bureau (TTB) has been hard at work finding ways to continue to improve the tourism industry in Tianjin. According to their "33651" project, the TTB will invest CNY 120 billion in 30 different tourist projects through 2015. Also during this time, the number of five-star hotels will increase by almost double to 50. Furthermore, the TTB is promoting "big tourism, big market, big industry" through cooperation with other industries like sports and agriculture. For example, this year the East Asian Games will be held here in Tianjin. Listed below are some projects that will all be completed by the end of the year and will surely help significantly boost Tianjin's tourism industry.  
Tianjin Happy Valley  
Later this May, Tianjin Happy Valley will be open to the public. Located at Donli Lake, the total amount that has been invested in the park is estimated at USD 270 million. This is the sixth Happy Valley location in China (There are parks also in Beijing, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Shanghai, and Wuhan). The highlight of Tianjin Happy Valley will be a wooden roller coaster with a 1.2 km loop and a 35m tall descent. When it is completed it will be the longest and tallest in all of Asia. It will also be home to China's first roller coaster in total darkness and Asia's tallest splash mountain. In addition, the park will feature a water amusement park section that will be home to a 5000 square metre wave pool and an underwater roller coaster. 
Tianjin Happy Magic Watercube 
At the end of May, Phase 1 of the Tianjin Happy Magic Watecube water park will be open in the Binhai New Area. Upon full completion in 2014, the Tianjin Happy Magic Watercube will become the largest water park in China. It will be home to a 3 km drift river (or lazy river), the longest in all of China. It will also host speed slides, aqua games for kids, and a water roller coaster. Phase 2 will include a manmade salt lake, spa, and a halotherapy center. The cost of admission will be CNY 200. 
Parks and Recreation 
In a bid to become a "national landscape garden city" Tianjin plans to build and upgrade 89 parks in the city during the period of the 12th Five Year Plan (2011-2015), upping the total park area in the city by 39.6 million square metres. According to the plan, Tianjin will build 25 new parks in the city by 2015 so that there will be a park every 3 kms in the city. There will also be an additional 17 parks built in Binhai New Area that will cover an area of 15.7 million square metres. 
Tianjin Qilihai Wetland Park 
The Tianjin Qilihai Wetland Park, which opened at the end of last summer will triple in size from 333 hectares to 1000 hectares by Labour Day this year. The vision of the future is to make this Wetland Park a major holiday resort in northern China for pensioners, sight-seers, and eco-tourists. Currently you can enjoy a number of different activities at Qilihai including sightseeing programs, an aquatic plant exhibition centre, VIP fishing area, and a children's play area. There are also plans to build a recovery area for endangered plants and a fish cultivation area. The park is in the process of obtaining a 4A-level scenic area status. It would become the 9th location to reach this status in Tianjin.
National Marine Museum  
Construction of China's first National Marine Museum will begin in Binhai on 8 June. The museum will cover an area of 300,000 square metres and will cost CNY 2.8 billion. The museum will collect 10,000 items for its marine collection by the end of the year. Upon completion, the National Marine Museum will be a base for research and development, communication, education and tourism. 
Helicopter Tours 
The Tianjin Municipal Tourism Bureau launched a low-altitude helicopter tour service on 16 March. The larger helicopters can hold up to twelve passengers and for 30 minutes you can get a bird's eye view of the Binhai New Area. The city is planing to open additional routes in the future in order to attract more tourists. Though it may be a high-end tourist product with fares starting at CNY 1000, the service has been attracting local people of all different backgrounds.  
Cruise Ships 
Tianjin China International Travel Service is moving forward with five new high-end cruise routes to Northern Europe, America, The Mediterranean, and Australia & New Zealand that will take passengers to cities and ports around the globe. In addition, Royal Caribbean will begin to operate its Voyager of the Sea cruise ship out of Tianjin. The ship has 15 decks and 1,557 guestrooms and includes Asia's largest onboard duty-free store, a skating rink, theatre, a three floored restaurant, and many themed cafeterias. Royal Caribbean will also open a new cruise route to Taiwan. This 8 night/9 day cruise will begin service on 23 July and is scheduled to call at Taiwan's Hualien, Keelung, Taichung ports. During the cruise season from 25 February to 14 October, the port of Tianjin is expected to handle approximately 90 international voyages.  
In order to facilitate this anticipated increase in international tourism, the Tianjin Binhai Airport will complete construction of Terminal 2 in June of 2014. Upon completion, the airport will be able to handle 25 million passengers (up from its current capacity of 10 million), 1.7 million tonnes of cargo, and 225,000 flights a year. The airport will also be made more accessible as the line 2 metro and the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Rail will connect to the airport via the underground traffic hub. With everything happening in Tianjin, expect to see this city climb the ranks and be a top destination for travellers!  

By Justin Toy
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