No-one was more surprised to see a massive tourist bus in Guilin, China, clad in picturesque views of Hastings, than Hastings District councillor Kevin Watkins.
Inside the bus, televisions play videos of Hastings for passengers to watch. Emblazoned on the side are the words: ‘Guilin-Hastings Friendship Bus’.
Mr Watkins arrived in Guilin on Thursday.
Guilin and Hastings have been sister cities since a formal agreement was signed in 1981 – the first such formal arrangement between cities of the two countries.
Mr Watkins was visiting Guilin to discuss initial plans for the 40th anniversary of the sister city relationship, now just 20 months away.
“We had a very successful meeting with our sister-city counterparts confirming that both cities want to celebrate the relationship, and putting in place some timings around when we should discuss what that will look like.”
But little did Mr Watkins know, there was more on the agenda.
“They told us they had a surprise for us, and drove us to the tourism bus interchange, and there was a bus displaying our district. We were absolutely thrilled and honoured.”
Guilin plays host to 100 million tourists a year; with great numbers of those using the Guilin tourism organisation’s buses to tour the region.
Mr Watkins said it was also exciting to find out that the bus was electric.
“Fully 40 per cent of the buses in the region are now electric. They are determined to address pollution, and the change in the atmosphere since my last visit is obvious.”
This year is the China-New Zealand Year of Tourism, an initiative agreed to by China’s Premier Li Keqiang and the New Zealand Government in 2017.
In honour of that, Guilin had dressed 11 of its buses in photos of its sister cities, including Hastings.
Mr Watkins' trip to China is also focused on the Year of Tourism, in particular Hastings’ project: The Amazing China-Hastings Year of Tourism. Last week he led the formal China launch of the initiative at the New Zealand Embassy in Beijing.
The Hastings project will see more than 20 cities and regions in China exchange gifts with Hastings, with the Chinese gifts forming the basis of a competition for Hastings high school students, in the same vein as the previous Amazing China Face Race competitions.
“It’s about celebrating our long-standing connection with China and helping advance our already strong trade, tourism and education relationships, by helping the people of both our countries learn more about each other,” Mr Watkins said.
While in China, Mr Watkins had also visited Zigong, China’s largest lantern manufacturing city, to have discussions on how Hastings can grow its annual Lighting of the Osmanthus Gardens festival to an exciting new level.
12 August 2019
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