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More people are going off the beaten track for a relaxing break

Tourists feed black-headed gulls returning to spend the winter at Dianchi Lake in Kunming, Yunnan Province. [Photo/Xinhua]

Against the tide of the influx to well-known but usually crowded tourist destinations on vacation, an increasing number of vacationers in China tend to spend their free time in lesser-known resorts in search of unique and relaxed vacation experiences.

“Reverse tourism” has become a new trend among young vacationers in China.

“Man moves one meter every 10 minutes on Huangshan Mountain” became a trending topic on social media during the National Day holiday in October this year, a time when well-known tourist attractions such as Huangshan generally operate at full capacity.

The news reminded some of a social media post in August about a comfortable stay at an upscale hotel in the lesser-known northeastern border town of Hegang for just 318 yuan ($44). by night.

During the week-long bank holiday, which ended on October 7, large numbers of holidaymakers, especially young professionals longing to escape the hectic city life, shunned popular holiday destinations in order to get off the beaten track and enjoy some peace and quiet.

According to data from online travel agency Qunar, cited by the Beijing Daily, the number of rooms booked at hotels in less crowded cities during the holidays increased by 30 percent year-on-year.

Four- and five-star hotel reservations in less crowded locations, including Linxia in Gansu Province, Shizuishan in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Haibei in Qinghai Province, all increased by at least 10 times over in the same period of 2021.

In Shandong Province, for example, some lesser-known scenic spots posted double-digit growth during the holidays. Baimaiquan Park in the provincial capital of Jinan received 52,100 visits in seven days, up 15.78 percent year-on-year.

Some young professionals who normally have little time for themselves have simply stayed in a hotel to make the long-awaited break more relaxing.

Aside from the crowds, some vacationers have chosen less crowded spots to save on the cost of travel to popular destinations, which often involves expensive tickets, meals and hotel stays.

“Before, tourism was about visits. Now it’s about experiences,” Dai Bin, president of the China Tourism Academy, told the Beijing Daily.

He said popular tourist sites are always crowded and often raise their prices during holidays. As people become more mature travelers, they are increasingly reluctant to follow the herd. Some of them are just looking to rest somewhere quiet for a few days, which is a good way to spend a vacation, he noted.

Additionally, lesser-known attractions are not as “commercial” and “standardised” as developed attractions and are able to offer more authentic experiences and natural encounters, according to social media posts. And unlike popular destinations, some places that are underexplored and not exposed online can offer more surprises.

Another key factor fueling reverse tourism is COVID-19. As precautionary measures continue, traveling has an unpredictable quality. A traveler has no way of knowing what awaits them before they depart, whether it’s the perfect vacation or one interrupted by a sudden epidemic. Travelers have therefore become more cautious and tend to choose local attractions or less touristy places.

“The rise of reverse tourism is not a bad thing,” said an opinion piece in the Zhengzhou Daily. This means that holidaymakers now have more options, providing more opportunities for the tourism market, the article explains.

More importantly, he noted, the trend is to force popular destinations to improve instead of resting on their laurels.

Jiang Han, senior researcher at Beijing-based public policy think tank Pangoal, said reverse tourism will become one of the future directions of the market and is a growth opportunity comparable to the camping economy.

To give a real boost to the tourism market, Jiang suggested that more efforts should be made to harness the potential of underrated and lesser-known destinations.