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Adventure invigorating villages

China Daily | Updated: 2019-02-23 10:35
Seagrass-roofed dwellings are a feature of Dongchudao village in Rongcheng, Shandong province, where a model rural inn featuring reuse of local heritage is located. [Photo by Yang Zhili/for China Daily]

New bed-and-breakfast businesses giving rural economies a welcome shot in the arm

Experts called for "rational use" of old rural buildings at a recent forum in Beijing, exploring ways to preserve cultural heritage while revitalizing the rural economy.

Heritage needs to be categorized for its reuse, said Huang Zi, head of the Zhejiang Traditional Architecture Design and Research Institute.

"We need to choose a suitable way to regenerate heritage," Huang said. "The way should be in tune with the building's physical and cultural characteristics and blend into local social and economic progress to sustain itself."

"Without booming industry, the rural economy cannot be revitalized," he said, adding that bed-and-breakfasts are a good way to revitalize villages.

A growing number of urban residents are opting for countryside retreats to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. As a result, rural tourism has gained momentum and spurred a boom in B&B businesses in villages.

Data from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism show that rural areas in the country received some 2.5 billion visits in 2017, an increase of 16 percent from a year earlier. Visitors spent 20 billion yuan ($2.97 billion) on stays at B&Bs. That expenditure is forecast to rise to 36.3 billion yuan by 2020.

Of the emerging rural homestays, those that feature cultural heritage and help visitors to learn about local communities are proving popular.

Distinguishing themselves from standardized hotels, countryside inns can offer a unique experience.

The Chinese Committee for the International Council on Monuments and Sites, founded in 1993, announced five models of rural inns in November 2018, each of them renovating and repurposing derelict buildings in the countryside.

Han Yu, a co-founder of Pig's Inn at Bishan village in Huangshan, Anhui province, had worked in Shanghai as a poet. In 2004, she and her husband moved to the village and turned an abandoned house, built in a Anhui architectural style, into a boutique hotel.

The couple paid attention to preserving the original features from design to building and interior decor to courtyard plants. She collected vintage items, such as furniture and vases, from villagers and placed them in the property.

"We are here to become locals, rather than as intruders," she said in one of her books. "We chose to live in the village and share the sunshine, rain and roads with the villagers."

"Many villagers had lost faith in tradition," she told the forum. "Giving heritage a new lease of life helps them regain their faith."

Song Xinchao, an official from the association, said rural heritage inns have injected vigor into villages and provide a new engine for their revitalization.

B&Bs featuring heritage encourage nongovernmental capital and manpower to join in cultural heritage protection, boosting villages' development and modernity in rural life, Song said.

Han said: "We need to show respect for our tradition and culture that have echoed down the ages."

Model examples of profitable hospitality

The Chinese Committee for the International Council on Monuments and Sites has introduced the first list of model inns featuring heritage.

The examples are expected to encourage the development of more rural businesses tapping into local heritage.

・Tile Factory Rural Boutique Hotel

Standing in Huairou district on the outskirts of Beijing, the hotel evolved from an abandoned glazed tile factory at Beigou village. Its owners, a US resident and his Chinese wife, protected the old buildings and preserved the environment during the refit. They also capitalized on location-in reach of the Great Wall's Mutianyu section-in the hotel's design. Every guest room has a window facing north, providing a view of the internationally acclaimed heritage site.

・Seagrass-roofed Tangxiang Hotel

This hotel is located at Dongchudao, a fishing village in Rongcheng under the administration of Weihai, Shandong province in East China. Famed for its seagrass-roofed houses, Dongchudao is among the first in the nation that has been recognized as a traditional Chinese village. Built on an old house in the village, the hotel has typical local architectural features.

・Secret Garden Boutique Hotel

The Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) courtyard house is located in Yangshuo county, the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. The hotel was reportedly a family residence of a military commander before 1949. An architect from South Africa redesigned it into a countryside retreat.

・Han'e Manor

The boutique hotel is located at a village in Danba county, Sichuan province. Built in a Tibetan architectural style, the property stands by a fortification more than 1,000 years old. The hotel provides traditional Tibetan craftsmanship lessons.

・Pig's Inn

The inn at Bishan village in Huangshan, Anhui province, was a century-old house in a typical Anhui architectural style. The hotel has paid attention to preserving and inheriting local culture. It buys fresh farm products locally to enrich its menu and employs locals. The move also helps increase locals' income.

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