40 percent increase in visits year-on-year
– mainly from domestic tourists – outstripping the national average by 25 percent, according to official figures.
The business has grown steadily over the years mainly because “Xinjiang is very stable”, explains Wu Yali, who runs a travel agency in the region. Though tourists are not used to the high level of security at first, “they adapt after a few days”, she says.
Travelers are barred from witnessing the most controversial part of Xinjiang’s security apparatus: the network of internment camps spread across the vast region.
Many of these facilities are outside main tourist hubs and are fenced off with razor-wired walls. China describes the facilities as “vocational education centers” where Turkic-speaking “trainees” learn Chinese and job skills.
“The violence that is being inflicted on the bodies of Uygur and other Muslim people … has been rendered invisible,” says Rachel Harris, who studies Uygur culture and music at the School of Oriental and African Studies University of London.
“For a tourist who goes and travels around a designated route, it all looks nice,” she says. “It’s all very quiet and that is because there’s a regime of terror being imposed on the local people.”
According to People’s Daily, the regional government offered travelers subsidies worth 500 yuan (US$73) each in 2014, after tourism plunged following a deadly knife attack blamed on Xinjiang separatists in southwest China.