Products and souvenirs featuring giant pandas have been a hit among holiday travelers at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan province. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Every day, a long queue begins forming at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan province at around 7 am, half an hour before it opens.

"Many of us come to see Hua Hua," said Yuan Yuan, a 21-year-old university student from Chengdu, Sichuan's capital.

Hua Hua, a nearly 3-year-old female panda at the base, became an online sensation recently because of her intelligence. She obeys when her keeper summons her, Yuan said.

Panda mania has played a strong role in boosting the economy in the area.

The 3-square-kilometer base, which is home to about 200 pandas, was listed among the nation's top destinations during the five-day Labor Day holiday and has seen a spike in tourism, according to data released by Chengdu's municipal tourism bureau on Saturday.

Tickets for Sunday and Monday were sold out, and few were available for Tuesday and Wednesday, according to base official Li Jie, adding that a maximum of 60,000 tickets are made available each day.

In the first quarter of this year, the number of bookings for hotels around the base was 3.2 times higher than the same period last year, according to China Central Television.

"Most of our guests come to the area especially to see Hua Hua," said Li Sheng, a homestay owner near the base.

Furthermore, panda-related souvenirs such as headbands, dolls, school bags and decorative rings sold in stores at the base and in other parts of Chengdu have become popular.

One locale in particular has significantly benefited from the attention given to the bears.

In 2021, Giant Panda National Park was officially established, covering 22,134 square kilometers and spanning Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. As a demonstration park for biodiversity conservation, it protects the major habitats of 87.5 percent of China's wild giant pandas.

The traditional hydropower, timber and mineral industries in Yingjing county, part of Ya'an in Sichuan, shrank as the protection of pandas became a top priority. As the county gradually explores a green development path, it has invested 1 billion yuan ($144 million) to build panda-themed sculptures and exhibits, a bamboo forest and a science popularization base in an area of more than 33 hectares in Wannian village, which is at the south entrance of Giant Panda National Park.

As a result, panda-related tourism in Wannian, located about 189 kilometers from Chengdu, has benefited the entire town of Longcanggou, which administers the village.

During Spring Festival in January, Longcanggou received more than 60,000 tourists, up 170 percent year-on-year, and tourism revenue surpassed 11 million yuan, an increase of 200 percent year-on-year, said Gao Xiaosong, secretary of the Longcanggou town committee of the Communist Party of China.

China's fourth panda census, the results of which were released in 2015, showed that there were 1,864 wild pandas by the end of 2013.

Gao Yang contributed to the story.