A woman prepares food for Russian tourists in a folk village in Inner Mongolia. (Photo by Wang Zhuangfei/For China Daily)
Liu Jing admits July is a hot month in the border city of Manzhouli in North China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
She also confessed it was the busiest time of the year for her as general manager of the Russian Dolls Playground theme park.
To illustrate the point, she came up with a few numbers. In just one day, Liu will serve more than 20,000 tourists. For the whole of July, she will deal with about 600,000 customers.
"This is just the beginning," Liu said with great understatement. "I am sure the numbers will double or even triple in the coming years."
The theme park showcases Russian culture, food and music, and is the jewel in the crown for Manzhouli Port International Travel Service Co Ltd.
Company Chairman Wang Zejun first arrived in Manzhouli back in 1992 when the State Council announced it was an open border city.
During the next 25 years, he established a business empire covering hotels, travel and international trade.
"We seized the golden chance of tourism development and made use of Manzhouli's unique geographical advantages," Wang said.
Inner Mongolia shares a border with Russia and this is boosting economic growth in the region.
Data from the Russian Federation Tourism Administration showed that cross-border visits reached 3.27 million last year.
Besides a booming tourism sector, new local government policies will change the business landscape by diversifying the economy.
"Inner Mongolia has relied too much on coal and cows, or farming," said Hang Shuanzhu, head of the Inner Mongolia Social Sciences Association. "We have to adjust this industrial structure and develop service industries in particular."
Tourism has now become a priority sector for the region, according to Li Jiheng, CPC regional chief of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
Local government statistics from Manzhouli city showed that overall tourism numbers hit 30 million with revenue topping 20.8 billion yuan (.06 billion) last year.
The Belt and Road Initiative has been a major driver in fueling those figures.
Proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, the initiative aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road trade routes.
As one of the most important border cities between China and Russia, Manzhouli has attracted millions of tourists from home and abroad.
"In the center of the Russian Dolls Playground theme park is a huge doll with three faces of a Mongolia girl, a Chinese girl and a Russian girl," Liu, the general manager, said. "This represents peace and prosperity brought by cross-border tourism."
The attraction has certainly been a financial winner for Manzhouli Port International Travel Service.
Last year, the group's operating income reached 111 million yuan, an increase of 58 percent compared to the same period in 2015.
Net profit was 34 million yuan during the same time frame, an increase of 60 percent.
"We plan to invest another 300 million yuan to build an ice and snow park, and an international camping site in the next few years," Wang, the chairman, said.