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Sichuan scenic spots open for free on May 12

Most scenic spots in southwest China's Sichuan Province will open for free on May 12, the one year anniversary of a fatal earthquake which killed nearly 70,000 people, local tourism authority confirmed Wednesday.

Tourist attractions will also be discounted, some from 50-70 percent, during the month of May, said Wu Mian, deputy director of the Sichuan Provincial Tourism Administration.

The measures were taken to rebuild tourists' confidence so as to revitalize the province's travel industry, he added.

On Tuesday, the provincial capital Chengdu began distributing 20 million tourism cards, named the Panda Card, which offer free or discounted admission at tourist attractions in the city for people in and outside the province.

There are 15 million "golden cards" for people outside Sichuan, which provide entrance to any tourism spots this year. The golden card will be sold for only one yuan in commercial banks and airports across China.

Another 5 million cards, or "silver cards," have 50 percent discounts. They were supposed to be given to people in Sichuan.

The Panda cards could save tourists up to 12 billion yuan, according to local government official.

The 8.0 magnitude quake centering Wenchuan, Sichuan, caused an economic loss of about 30 billion yuan (about 4.4 billion U.S. dollars) to Chengdu's travel industry, said Deng Gongli, deputy secretary-general of the Chengdu municipal government.

"We want to thank those who helped us in quake relief through the Panda cards distribution and we hope the move could give full play to tourism industry in driving local economy," Deng said.

All the cards were expected to be distributed by August 1, he added.

Sichuan has many famous scenic sites such as: Jiuzhaigou, a resort famous for its natural beauty and good weather; Dujiangyan, one of the world's first irrigation systems; and the Giant Buddha in Leshan city, the largest sitting stone sculpture of Buddha in the world.

Tourists worldwide also come to the province to see the giant pandas at the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center and the Wolong Nature Reserve, a major panda habitat in Sichuan.

(Xinhua News Agency March 26, 2009)