Boasting ideal mountain terrain and strong government support, Lu'an in Anhui province is aiming to become an outdoor leisure sports hub by hosting international events.
An international half-marathon race will be held in the Jin'an district on Oct 15 as the latest effort to realize the ambition and to diversify the existing sports culture, according to city officials and event organizers.
"Through hosting sporting events, we embrace the opportunity to demonstrate a vibrant city image while taking advantage of the exposure to promote the rich outdoor sports and tourism resources here," said Wei Yong, deputy head of Jin'an district.
The half-marathon is expected to attract 10,000 runners, including 3,000 participants in a 10-kilometer mini race, to compete along a picturesque course set in the mountain-urban fringe zone in Jin'an, according to the district sports bureau.
"We will take the marathon as an anchor event to trigger greater public participation around the region by organizing more accessible mass fitness activities affiliated to the race," said Ye Mingxing, director of the sports bureau.
Located in the forest-covered Dabie Mountains and boasting various sports facilities, Lu'an has what it takes to become a sport-centered tourism destination in the region, attracting visitors while building a vibrant city image, Ye said.
The tourism and sports administrative departments have launched a project to build hiking and cycling routes as well as support facilities along a 45-km mountain trail in the southern outskirts of Jin'an.
Approved by the International Tennis Federation and the Chinese Tennis Association, a men's and women's combined tournament was held at a newly built sports center in Jin'an for a second consecutive year in May, attracting more than 150 players from 30 countries and regions to compete for total prize money of $85,000.
The new sports center also consists of an 18-hole golf course, an international-standard indoor swimming pool and badminton courts.
Huang Dingrong, director of Jin'an district tourism administration, said the government will work with tour agencies to develop more sports-theme packages that integrate local natural tourism resources with sporting events to diversify attractions for visitors.
"As we have so many mass sporting events such as marathons held every year across the country, even in third- or fourth-tier cities, it's critical to integrate the operation of these events with local natural and social characteristics to make them special and appealing to regional participants," said Hai Zhenwen, a sports industry researcher with Beijing Sports Bureau.