The rural travel craze is boosting the potential of the tourism market

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

Domestic travelers’ growing preference for niche destinations and experiences has fueled the enormous tourism potential of many of the country’s lesser-known travel destinations.

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, in Tianshui, Gansu province, travelers are sending clear signals that there a major shift is taking place in the domestic tourism market. is on the way.

Both prefecture-level cities attracted millions of travelers willing to queue 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 towns and provincial-level destinations off the beaten track. “I didn’t like the popular tourist spots in the city center and I couldn’t travel long distances,” says Wen, in his 30s.

That was when he started exploring provinces on the outskirts of Chengdu.

“The travel information for those small destinations was largely fragmented, so I pieced together the details and came up with my own itinerary,” he said.

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

“I am amazed by a lot of the historic architecture and the breathtaking natural landscapes in those small towns and provinces,” he said.

Although he sometimes encounters discrepancies between the online stories about the destinations and what they actually look like, in most cases 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 provide the necessary facilities such as transport, accommodation and food,” he said. “The most important thing is that these places have kept the identity of local people and communities alive. This appeals to me more than busy big cities,” Wen said.

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

“My fans come from different regions of the country, and most of them have given me very positive feedback and even call me their guide for cherished outings,” he said.

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