BEIJING, March 23 (Xinhua) -- The Kremlin in Moscow has witnessed the launch of "Tourism Year of China" 2013, which will look to help boost the travel industry for both China and Russia.
Visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, attended the opening ceremony. Analysts say the attendance of the two countries' presidents will hopefully provide a boost for the tourism business.
Xi said tourism is the best way to enhance the sense of neighborhood and Putin warmly introduced China to all Russians.
This year's campaign will involve 382 activities, 235 hosted by China and the rest by Russia.
"Only travelers can tell how the bilateral relationship is going," said Xing Guangcheng, an expert on Russia research with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
According to Russian tourism official data, 343,000 trips were made from China to Russia in 2012, up 47 percent year on year.
Diao Shuang, manager of European businesses with China Youth Travel Service, said younger tourists are also heading to Russia. "In 2011, 70 percent of tourists to Russia were elderly," Diao said, "but this year 40 percent are younger than 45."
Meanwhile, the number of Russian tourists to China is the third largest in the world and has been since 1997. Some 2.43 million trips were made in 2012 and another 172,700 trips from Russia to China in January, up 27 percent year on year.
"Tourists from Russia has outnumbered any other European or American countries in the last two years." said Cheng Jie, deputy general manager of European businesses in China Travel Service.
In border cities in northeast China, shops and stall holders carry out business making deals in Russian and many Russian tourists visit local Chinese people, living peacefully and happily.
Renowned as "Twin Cities," Heihe of China's northeast Heilongjiang Province neighbors Russia's Blagoveshchensk. More than 7,000 Russians each day go shopping in Heihe during the busy season.
Zhang Guangqiang, Far East Travel Service executive general manager in Russia's neighboring Jilin Province, said traditional Chinese medicine like acupuncture as well as beautiful scenery attracts many Russians.
"Many Russians have mistaken Chinese people as wearing grey or blue suits," an experienced Russian guide Nikolay Amurov said, "but they have found China to be such an attractive country."
He said China's coastal cities like Beidaihe of north Hebei Province and Sanya of south Hainan Province fascinate Russians besides cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.
In 2011, Hainan Province accommodated 220,000 trips from Russia, up 51.9 percent year on year, according to the China National Tourism Administration.
Zhu Shanzhong, deputy director of the administration, said the country aims to attract more Russians to southwest Yunnan and Sichuan provinces.
"Surging costs become the biggest problem in developing tourism between the two countries," Cheng Jie said, "airline, hotel and catering all face price increases which hinder tourists."
The lack of experienced and professional tour guides posed another challenge for Chinese enterprises to explore the Russian tourism market, which long for opportunities created by the "Tourism Year" to tackle this plight.