TUNIS-On the terrace of a two-floor Dar El Souk cafe, located in the heart of Douz town in southern Tunisia, local university students were drinking coffee, while enjoying the traditional Sahara dance performances.

On the souk square, the folk bands wearing farmla jackets and balga shoes, known as traditional clothes of Sahara region, played folklore music to the cheers of audience.

Wang Wenkai, a 30-year-old Chinese tourist, said these "exotic" performances enabled direct interaction with "the traditional life and customs of Sahara" as well as "the enthusiasm of the desert people."

The 51st Douz International Sahara Festival, themed "protect cultural heritage of Sahara region," kicked off on Thursday in the small Tunisian town of Douz, and is expected to attract 50,000 tourists to the town for the charm of local folk customs.

Bachtoula Bechir, spokesperson of the festival, told Xinhua that more than 20,000 visitors attended the celebration activities on the first day, while Sami Beljaj, director of the festival's organizing committee, said a series of more activities will be hosted in the four-day festival.

"There are cultural performances such as nomadic traditional songs and dances, traditional wedding ceremonies, traditional sports such as camel fighting, horse racing and Slougui hunting (dog hunting), as well as traditional crafts and local food exhibitions," said Beljaj.

According to Tunisian Culture Minister Mohamed Zine El-Abidine, the world-famous annual international desert festival has great significance.

It not only helps protect the traditional life and culture of Sahara region in southern Tunisia, but also attracts foreign tourists, promotes tourism and creates more job opportunities for local residents, he said.

This festival, originally known as nomadic local camel festival in the early 20th century, has now developed into an international festival, attracting a large number of tourists each year to Sahara region.

Bai Guangming, cultural counselor at the Chinese Embassy in Tunisia, said the Douz festival also has a great charm for the Chinese tourists.

"Since Tunisia offered visa-free entry to Chinese tourists last year, more Chinese visitors have come to this North African country," said Bai.

"Douz in the Sahara region has become a must-visit-place for the Chinese tourists," he added.

Meanwhile, Bechir said his country welcomes "more Chinese tourists to discover the beautiful landscape of Sahara and the traditional culture of the region."

Mohamed Gharsailla, a 32-year-old waiter from Dar El Souk cafe, said "this festival brings successful business and we have received customers from all over the world, including Germany, Italy, France and China."

"Douz has really become an international tourism town and we feel proud and happy," he added.