China witnessing rural tourism boom despite Covid-19 pandemic

 Wednesday, May 12, 2021 

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China is in the middle of a boom in rural tourism as city dwellers escape the country’s rapidly expanding urban centres to head out to small communities, farms and orchards for a taste of the simple and uncomplicated life.


And the Chinese government couldn’t be more pleased.


China has one of the largest domestic tourism markets in the world. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism estimated there will be more than four billion trips made across China in 2021, a market worth just over $500 billion.


With international tourism all but impossible due to the ongoing pandemic and quarantine restrictions, a demand for domestic alternatives isn’t surprising — especially as China is home to 55 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.


But Chinese tourists aren’t just heading to their country’s historic and natural wonders — some are looking for something a bit different.


In posts on Chinese social media site Weibo, one user named Ancailie said after spending a day picking mulberries, watching rice grow and eating home-grown food she was “much happier.”


Another user, laozhenyiwen, described how they had gone to the country to fish and eat seafood for the recent May Day holiday, happy to have “avoided crowds”.


Chinese-owned Trip.com, one of the world’s largest online travel agencies, said by March 2021, rural tourism trips in China had increased year-on-year by more than 300 per cent.


The trend is so lucrative that Trip.com is planning a “five year action plan” to promote rural tourism, which includes cultivating 10,000 professional agents with a focus in the area and investing 1 billion yuan ($150 million) in rural tourism industry funds.


Zhou Mingqi, founder and general manager of Shanghai Tour Guide Enterprise Management Consulting, said Chinese people were getting tired of the lack of leisure opportunities and unique experiences in the country’s big cities.


“There is a need to experience a different kind of life, like idyllic scenery or countryside life, to change a lifestyle on the weekend,” he said.


Wang Shang works for a Beijing-based company that helps coordinate countryside tours and activities. She said that in one of the hotels she worked for, visitors can experience growing their own food, practice farming and learn about the region’s traditional crafts and customs.


“Most weekend trips guests are kindergarten or elementary school students and their parents,” she said.


While some of the countryside hotels are quite elaborate, others can be reasonably minimalist, with activities as simple as picking strawberries, visiting folk museums or attending local operas.


In Wang’s opinion, there are two main reasons why people were enthusiastic to vacation in the countryside — the isolation, and experiencing a healthy lifestyle.


One of the hotels Wang worked at, in eastern Shandong province, opened in May 2020 — just after the worst of the initial Covid-19 epidemic in China — and it was quickly filled by people looking to holiday in the relative safety of the countryside, she said.


“The population density of rural areas is low, and virus prevention and control have been done well. So many urban families choose to go (there),” she said.


Additionally, in a country where scandals over contaminated food and products used to be common, Wang said tourists were also drawn by the potential for healthy, fresh produce in rural areas.


Wang said visitors from big cities come to buy flour, noodles, meat, eggs, honey and liquor, among other items. “For each parent-child trip, we will arrange picking or planting activities so that children can learn about the crops. Parents are also very willing to take their children to play in the mud,” Wang said.


“The guests go into the village to drink soy milk, watch the piggies in the pigsty and so on. Guests like these activities.”
The trend has also been pushed by Chinese internet influencers such as Li Ziqi, whose beautifully-shot videos of simple living in rural China, set to peaceful music, have garnered tens of millions of viewers.


In one video, Li plants seeds to grow soy beans and then make soy sauce. In another, she picks peaches and berries to make jam, creating it naturally without any food additives.


But despite the appearance of an authentic country experience, Zhou said that growing amounts of rural hotels and villages were trying to attract visitors.


Some rural areas were even engaging professional organisations to try to improve their appeal, Zhou said, planning and design experts who specialize in bringing in tourists.

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