WUHAN, April 13 (Xinhua) -- "People love flowers as they represent beauty," said Xiong Yuanbin of central China's Wuhan University. "The love for beauty is almost a human instinct."
Besides the more mundane options of visiting historical or cultural sites, making a trip to see flowers has become quite the rage among the Chinese public in recent years, but turning flower tourism into a world-class item in China is still some way off.
Every Spring tourists congregate at flourishing destinations such as Kunming in the southwest and Wuyuan in the east, to view magnificent spectacles of rape flowers, cherry and peach blossom, and tulips. The improved high-speed railway network makes such trips fast and convenient.
This is a trend local governments are delighted to encourage, as it contributes more to a city than just the obvious economic benefits.
Famed for its cherry trees, for many Wuhan University has become a must-see every March. The campus was crowded with 50,000 visitors a day during the flowering season last year. This year, authorities capped the daily limit at 40,000.
In 2013, Wuhan attracted 170 million domestic and foreign visitors and many came for the city's "five flowers": cherry blossom, azalea, lotus, peony and plum blossom. Always keen to maximize the allure of the flowers, the city came up with idea of making the most of arguably China's best known athlete, tennis player Li Na, by placing a life-size wax statue of her in some popular parks.
Ingenuity aside, flower tourism remains somewhat under-exploited.
"Flower tourism in China is still short-sighted, limited by preoccupation with short-term gains," said Long Xinmin, president of China Southern International Travel Company.
In contrast, vibrant flower tourism industries such as cherry blossom in Japan, lavender in France and tulips in the Netherlands, nurture brands with an emphasis on eco-protection, an aspect, according to Long, almost entirely overlooked in China. Pictures of domestic beauty spots strewn with garbage after the scourge of visitors often make the post-holiday headlines.
Thanks to this disparity between domestic and international environment, Chinese tourists making overseas flower trips have been on the rise.
"The number of visitors going to France for the lavender season is growing at 30 percent every year," said Li Tianshu, sales director of Hua Yuan International Travel Co., Ltd.
Many wedding photography agencies said bookings are full for this year's shooting at Japan's April cherry blossom and France's July lavender.
"China's flower tourism has tremendous potential but it has to look beyond immediate gains and give due attention to the environment. We have to learn to invest our various flowers with distinctive cultural elements," said Li.
In China, the peony has a rich history and cultural tradition behind it, but not enough is done to make this known to foreign visitors. Consequently, the iconic bloom is unable to serve as a ready source of income, like tulip for the Netherlands, he added.