With Persian carpets draped across a chair and fragrant saffron tea being served, Faezeh Akhoundi, a 33 year old Iranian woman, introduced traditional Iranian culture at her booth.

It was the second time that Akhoundi attended the China Tourism Industry Exposition (CTIE), which opened earlier this month in northern China’s Tianjin Municipality.

With an exhibition area of 50,000 square meters, the expo was comprised of 3,000 standard booths and attracted exhibitors from about 30 countries, many of which are from along the Belt & Road.

“This is a good chance for me to introduce Iranian culture to Chinese people and attract more Chinese tourists to Iran,” said Akhoundi, the founder of the Silk Road International Investing and Developing Company, which provides tourism services aimed at Chinese visitors.

Akhoundi used to work as a tour guide for Chinese visitors in 2011. “I really like Chinese tourists because they are very nice. They would always ask me if I need food or drink and told me that I could have a rest when feeling tired,” she said in fluent Chinese.

Attracted by Chinese culture and the potential market in Chinese tourism, she decided to found her own company in 2015.

“My company is small but developing fast. We can now provide services for about 15 Chinese tour groups every year,” Akhoundi said, adding that the Belt & Road Initiative has been of great help.

“Few Chinese people were familiar with Iran before the initiative was put forward. Nowadays, more and more people want to get to know Iran,” she said.

Her appreciation for the BRI was echoed by Wang Jingshan, president of the TianMu Photography Association, who has organised a photography tour to Iran every year.

“There were only six people in our tour group when we first organised it back in 2014,” Wang said. “The number reached 13 the next year. And this year, there were so many people willing to join our tour group, so we arranged two tours.”

“Iran is an ideal place for travelling. The number of people visiting Iran increased dramatically after the launch of the BRI,” Wang said, adding that he wants to further promote exchanges between the two countries through photography.

According to the statistics released by the China Tourism Academy, the number of tourists from China to the Belt & Road countries has witnessed a 77 percent increase within five years, from 15.49 million in 2013 to 27.41 million in 2017, with an average annual growth rate of 15.34 percent.

Ji Fenghua, the founder of the Central Asia Development Center Silk Road, is also one of the exhibitors at the CTIE. He has provided tour group services in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan for the past 15 years.

He said that back then, most visitors on his tours were businessmen or government representatives. However, he now sees more and more tourists visiting central Asian countries under the influence of the BRI.

According to the statistics released by the National Development and Reform Commission, China has signed 173 cooperation documents, most of which related to tourism, with 125 countries and 29 international organisations as of April 2019.

Co-hosted by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and Tianjin Municipal Government, the CTIE has been held for ten consecutive sessions.