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County travel craze sparks tourism market potential

More people seeking holidays at quieter, low-key destinations, experts say

By Yang Feiyue | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-21 07:08

Visitors walk in the ancient town in Tianshui, Gansu province, on May 1. WANG ZIXUAN/XINHUA

Domestic travelers' growing preference for niche destinations and experiences has ignited the huge tourism potential of many of the country's lesser-known travel spots.

From last year's barbecue craze in Zibo, Shandong province, to this year's obsession with malatang, a spicy hot pot of boiled meat and vegetables on offer, in Tianshui, Gansu province, travelers are sending clear signals that a major shift in the domestic tourism market is underway.

Both of the prefecture-level cities attracted millions of travelers who were willing to wait in line for hours to taste these local specialties.

On social media, travel products are increasingly emphasizing their "uniqueness" as a way for people to showcase their individuality and lifestyle choices.

Since 2021, when the country was in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wen Yuxiang from Chengdu, Sichuan province, has discovered his passion for visiting small cities and county-level destinations off the beaten track. "I didn't fancy the popular tourist sites in downtown city areas and I couldn't travel long distances," said Wen, aged in his 30s.

That was when he started to explore counties on the edges of Chengdu.

"Travel information about those small destinations was mostly fragmented, so I just pieced together the details and came up with my own itinerary," he said.

He soon realized that there were so many options that he could satisfy his wanderlust in relative peace and quiet.

"I have been stunned by a lot of historical architecture and the breathtaking natural landscapes in those small cities and counties," he said.

Although sometimes he encounters discrepancies between online accounts of the destinations and what they are like in reality, in most instances his trips have not been disappointing. He has visited lesser-known destinations in many provinces including Sichuan, Gansu, Guizhou, Shanxi and Guangdong.

"They are small, but they all offer the necessary facilities, such as transportation, accommodation and dining," he said. "Most importantly, these places have kept alive the identity of the local people and the communities. This is more appealing to me than crowded big cities," Wen said.

As he shared his travel experiences on the social media platform Xiaohongshu, the number of his followers grew from fewer than 200 in 2022 to more than 72,000 today.

"My fans come from different regions around the country, and most of them have given me very positive feedback, even calling me their guide to treasured getaways," he said.

Wen is proud that many of his followers share photos of their trip to a destination he has recommended, often saying they felt the same way he did about their experience.

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