Short and sweet


Tourists enjoy boating in a scenic area in Xingyi, Guizhou province. (Liu Chaofu/For China Daily)   

The popularity of "micro vacations" has prompted tourism players to innovate in a bid to draw local travelers.

Like many others, the fluctuating domestic COVID-19 situation has been a perpetual source of frustration for Shuai Chengrui every time he tries to take time off to embark on a trip.

"It might seem like I'm overreacting, but whenever I saw news about the emerging cases, it was like my hands were tied behind my back and I was being restrained from booking flights and hotels," the 31-year-old Beijing resident says.

A travel enthusiast, Shuai is used to enjoying numerous trips to distant getaways and holidaying in foreign climes each year.

Over the past two years, however, he has spent most of his free time traveling across the city, especially to its suburban areas, to find fun and blow off steam.

He will drive around 40 kilometers to the countryside with his family and friends, either to explore some attractions which are off the beaten track or try special local cuisines that he finds on social media platforms, such as Douyin and Xiaohongshu (also known as Little Red Book).


Homestays and rapeseed blossoms attract visitors to Wuxing village in Chengdu, Sichuan province. (Liu Guoxing/For China Daily)      

"Once I saw a pork rib restaurant with top reviews in Yanqing (district), I went there with my friends on a Saturday," Shuai says, adding: "It was great."

Shuai might be an extreme case, but a great many Chinese travelers have shortened the radius of their travel footprints to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

They have shown a preference for scenery close to home and take "micro vacations" that are smaller in scope and considerably shorter than a normal getaway. They have started to pay more attention to natural beauty and experiences along the way. It doesn't even matter if they have been there before, as long as it offers a novel experience.

"We have been booked up for a month," says Pei Yuhui, a homestay operator in northwestern Beijing's Yanqing district.

During the pandemic, urban residents have become used to spending vacation days at suburban homestays as a way of shrugging off the stresses of city life, even for a brief time, Pei explains.

As cases continue to crop up, and there are some regional outbreaks here and there, a majority of Beijing residents have responded to the local authority's call to stay within the boundaries of the city, boosting village tourism in the peripheral areas of the capital.

The average travel distance stood at 131.8 kilometers during the Spring Festival holiday, down 1.5 percent as compared with the same period last year, the China Tourism Academy reports.


Bamboo rafting is popular on the Yulong River in Yangshuo, the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. (Zhang Jingzhen/For China Daily)      

Intra-provincial travel accounted for 78.3 percent, according to the academy.

The recent independent travel report issued by the academy and the Chinese tourism website Mafengwo showed that short trips of no more than three days have become prevalent among young travelers, especially those born in the 1980s and the '90s.

Travelers have given priority to experiential excursions, usually involving gourmet food, a nice homestay or new ways of exploring a nearby destination, the report says.

Camping and skiing, as well as museums and night-sky observation experiences also greatly contributed to the popularity of short trips.

Data from major online service provider Meituan revealed that, since the first quarter of 2020, there was a significant drop in the demand for trips that go beyond 300 kilometers.

Trips within a 50 km to 300 km radius have been the most popular, according to Meituan.

One or two long-distance journeys a year, for average households, have been replaced by more frequent short trips nearer to home, says Zhang Chuan, a senior officer with Meituan.

"It has given rise to many new forms of consumption that offer more immersive experiences, injecting new momentum into the development of the culture and tourism industry," Zhang says.


Yidu village in Lin'an, Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, draws city residents to live in the "bubble rooms" on the Tianmu Mountains. (Hu Jianhuan/For China Daily)   

The service provider has worked with tourist attractions, museums and theme parks to focus on travelers' needs for short trips and to come up with service upgrades.

Over the Spring Festival holiday, online searches via Meituan for tickets to general activities, such as skiing, rose by 42.1 percent.

It shows that consumers were keen to get out of the city, but they weren't sure where exactly to go, suggesting that information which will help with their decision-making is needed, according to Zhang.

Meituan will leverage its consumer traffic to offer different options to potential travelers, says Zou Xiaodi, an officer with Meituan's ticket and marketing division.

Travelers' reviews of a scenic spot will be analyzed, and problems will be identified, in order to help optimize tourism products to the tastes of short-distance travelers, according to the online service provider.

Zou explains that the platform can match information between both the supply and demand sides, and use new tools to offer fresh activities and special delivery methods that will more effectively communicate value to travelers. On the destination side, it can help service providers recognize returning consumers.

At the same time, Meituan will also help businesses to upgrade and develop new added-value products to their customers, Zou adds.

Compared with travelers from other provinces, locals have more diverse, yet vague, interests, says Wang Dawei, chief marketing officer with the Guangdong-based theme park company Chimelong.

"They value novel and fun activities that break up the usual pace of life," Wang says, adding that local travelers have been on the rise since the breakout of the pandemic.

Last year, for its Halloween celebrations, Chimelong developed character interactions and held music carnivals in bid to cater to the preferences of young travelers.


Tianshan village in Jiangyou, Sichuan province, is nestled among the spectacular scenery. (Xinhua/Jiang Hongjing)      

This approach helped the theme park's ticket sales grow significantly for the 2021 event compared with the same period of the previous year, Wang says.

Another major domestic theme park operator Overseas Chinese Town has also offered water spa, hot spring and package hotel deals at its Xiangyang facility in Hubei province, which has drawn in many local families.

To encourage more visits to its facility in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, OCT has opened an academy of classic learning that integrates Asian garden architecture, tea tasting and folk music elements.

Lighting and drone shows have been put in place at OCT's Happy Valley in Beijing to boost night visits from residents in the capital.

These things helped OCT receive 3.6 million visitors during the Spring Festival holiday, a majority of which were locals.

The number of travelers and the revenue at its major sites both hit a single-day record high on Feb 3, the company reports.

To date, many scenic spots have sought cooperation with channels that can offer visitors different methods of experiencing the locale, such as ride-hailing and film ticket booking platforms.

Homogeneity among a considerable number of scenic spots has created a need for marketing, says Huo Jianjun, secretary-general of the China Tourist Attractions Association.

It has prompted travel players to explore new ways of building connections with the consumers.

At the moment, about 3.5 million businesses focus on short tours and related services, according to corporate information provider Tianyancha.

Experts say the competition will be fierce this year.

The key is to continuously optimize experiences for locals and stimulate their desire for travel, so the industry can maintain a steady path to recovery, Zou says.

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