Increased tourism and educational exchanges are behind a visit by Whanganui's mayor Hamish McDouall to Lijiang in China's Yunnan Province.

McDouall and a delegation from Whanganui are overseas to formally sign an agreement for a "strategic relationship" between Whanganui and the popular tourism destination.

McDouall says formalising the relationship "is the first step in a commitment to identify and develop mutually beneficial economic, cultural and social outcomes with Lijiang" and the visit will focus on increasing tourism between the cities and the potential for educational exchanges.

Lijiang, which has a population of more than 1.2 million, has more than 40 million tourist visits per year.

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Its attractions include its Old Town which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also has a university for tourism with 18,000 students, a massive trading hub and access to the Mekong and Yangtze rivers.

"This year is the China-New Zealand Year of Tourism and this has prompted the timing of the visit," McDouall said.

"We have a great opportunity to showcase Whanganui as a tourist destination to many millions of people."

Also on the trip are a Whanganui District Council staff member - principal advisor Marianne Cavanagh - and Councillor Hadleigh Reid, plus two local businesspeople with ventures in China.

The council is paying travel costs estimated at $4000 for McDouall and Cavanagh, with internal travel and accommodation paid for by the Lijiang government. Others in the delegation are paying their own way.

The group travelled to Lijiang on February 23.

About Lijiang

Lijiang is an economic and cultural hub located in the northwest of the Yunnan province in China. It has a population of 1,244,769 and is home to the Naxi people, one of the 56 ethnic groups of China.

Lijiang is one of the most popular tourist destinations in China, with more than 40 million tourist visits per year. The Old Town of Lijiang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back 1000 years and famous for its old waterways, bridges, and timber and mud-brick houses.