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Rural homestays rule the roost amid COVID recovery

By FAN FEIFEI | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-08-28 09:32
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Visitors pass by a rural homestay in Shaoyang, Hunan province, in July. TENG ZHIZHONG/FOR CHINA DAILY

Social distancing, relative safety of car trips all play part in exodus to countryside

Last month, Zhang Yaqi, a 32-year-old English teacher in Shanghai, had what she described as "an unforgettable lodging experience". She booked a three-day vacation at a farmhouse in Moganshan, a leisure tourism and summer resort in Deqing county, Zhejiang province, through an online short-term homestay platform.

"Moganshan is an ideal tourist destination for people living in Shanghai and Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. There are lovely bamboo trees and tea gardens all around amid creeping vines in a serene environment," said Zhang, adding that her family members had a rare chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and embrace nature.

The accommodation cost Zhang's family 410 yuan ($59) per night."The host also prepared breakfast for us. I was thrilled by my decision to try out the homestay concept and felt very comfortable staying there. I will recommend homestay holidays to my friends," she said.

As the COVID-19 outbreak increasingly comes under better control in China, the country's short-term vacation rental industry is also gradually recovering, with rural homestays and short-distance travel gaining popularity among Chinese tourists.

According to a report from the Sharing Economy Research Center under the State Information Center, revenue from China's shared accommodation sector increased month-on-month by 78 percent, 199 percent and 35 percent, respectively, from March to May, while order numbers rose by 141 percent, 152 percent and 50 percent over the same period.

During the first five months of the year, transaction volume of the shared accommodation market fell by 72.1 percent on a yearly basis due to the pandemic, with the number of bookings dropping 65 percent compared with the same period last year.

The report also said revenue of the country's homestay services industry reached 22.5 billion yuan in 2019, an increase of 36.4 percent year-on-year.

The China branch of US-based Airbnb said rural homestays are popular choices for leisure travel, given the need for physical distancing in the wake of the pandemic.

Bookings of rural homestays were mainly for kezhan (small-scale Chinese-style homestays), farm stays, cottages and villas, all of which have witnessed robust growth as the outbreak comes under better control.

"Pent-up travel demand is being unleashed rationally. In the short term, short-haul trips will become the norm, while rural tours are becoming increasingly popular choices. Cleanliness and hygiene of accommodations will also be a top priority for Chinese tourists," said Peng Tao, president of Airbnb China.

"Travel is one of the most resilient industries in the world," Peng said. He is bullish on the travel and tourism prospects and the short-term rental sector, saying demand for weekly and monthly rentals has surged during the pandemic.

"Based on our latest survey, nearly 60 percent of hosts said they were willing to accept more weekly and monthly rentals to alleviate operational pressure," he added.

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced in July that travel agencies and online tourism companies were gradually allowed to resume their trans-provincial group tours. The resumption has unleashed domestic travel demand of those who had canceled their reservations and stayed indoors under self-quarantine orders.

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