How glamping became China’s hottest new travel trend

(CNN) — “Every meadow is covered with tents during the weekends,” says Yoga Song, a 26-year-old glamping enthusiast.

Glamping, an amalgamation of the words ‘glamor’ and ‘camping’, is the latest travel fad among young Chinese.

Over the past year, Song says he has taken more than 10 glamping trips in China, both rural and urban suburbs.

She embarked on her first glamping trip in April 2021, heading to Zhongwei, a city dubbed “eastern Morocco”.

Located in the largely deserted Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in northern China, Zhongwei is home to the Yellow River, parts of the Great Wall, deserts, wetlands and ancient villages.

When she went, the city was already dotted with boutique hotels and homestays. But Song chose to try something different: a tent.

When Song arrived, she says there were five tents located just 10 meters from the roaring Yellow River, with a view of the Gobi Desert – the sixth largest in the world – on the other side.

But it didn’t go well. The weather was very windy in Zhongwei, blowing sand and gravel. As a result, all tourist sites have been closed.

“That night, the people who operated the glamping site called us to look at the stars,” she recalls. “When I emerged from the tent, all the clouds that covered the sky finally dispersed. The sky was vast, filled with starlight – every star I could imagine, and there was complete silence.”

With the hustle and bustle of city life left behind, travelers are exposed to an authentic and contemporary northwest China. Song says glamping here, surrounded by farms and pastures, offers travelers a chance to sow, harvest and taste locally grown dates and wine grapes. Goats, yaks and sheep pass from time to time under the tents.

This popular glamping resort is perched atop Hangzhou’s Yongan Mountain.

Xu Yu/Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images

Comfort rather than nature

In the world’s most populous country, spending time in nature can mean intense mountain hikes and desert treks or light picnics on a park’s lawn and relaxing walks on the outskirts of the country. ‘a town.

Yet while young city dwellers crave fresh air and nature, many don’t want to give up creature comforts like plush mattresses.

Xiaohongshu, the country’s leading lifestyle website, is a major hidden hand driving holiday fashion as chic camping-inspired posts flood mobile feeds.

For many young Chinese, glamping is the ideal activity for their dakka lists – a buzzword that describes internet users “pointing” to Instagrammable places.

Thousands of detailed lists of glamping items, easy-to-prepare meal recipes, and recommendations for glamping destinations across the country dominate the Chinese internet.

Song remembers seeing a Marshall speaker and huge handmade rugs in his tent in Zhongwei.

Natural Camp, the operator of the site, proudly announces on its official account Xiaohongshu (a Chinese social media site): “We keep a good selection of outdoor brands, both national and international.”

These include mattresses from King Koil – just as likely to be the same as those found in five-star hotel rooms – and outdoor furniture from premium Nordic brand Tentipi.

A one-night stay costs about 1,000 yuan ($148) per person, Song says.

The trend isn’t just happening in mainland China.

Wade Cheung, marketing director of Saiyuen, a glamping and adventure park on a Hong Kong island, has also seen bookings “significantly increase” over the past two years, with more than 10% of visitors returning after. their first stay.

“The lingering pandemic has inspired Hong Kongers to explore the city’s fabulous local experiences,” says Cheung.

The site, on Cheung Chau Island, offers a variety of accommodation options, from teepees to Mongolian gers, but the most exclusive is the Sunset Vista, a 300-square-foot domed tent set in its own 2-bedroom space. 000 square feet with a private meadow.

The dome can accommodate four people in total and includes a private shower room and toilet, barbecue stove, hammock and more,

With a bay window overlooking the ocean and a great site for star gazing, Sunset Vista has become a hit with Hong Kong bloggers and influencers.

A night in the tent costs around HKD$3,500 ($446) to HKD$4,800 ($611), on par with a night in a luxury hotel on Hong Kong Island.

Guests prioritizing comfort over nature have dominated the glamping site these days.

Cheung says the type of visitors they receive has evolved since the pandemic began. Before, visitors loved camping, hiking and nature, and were impressed with tent air conditioners. Now customers see air conditioning as a must.

“For example, if there’s a frog sitting in front of the tent, previous visitors will probably crouch down and take a picture with it, but for today’s visitors, it might become something they need to remember. adapt,” he adds.

A view from inside Saiyuen's dome tent.

A view from inside Saiyuen’s dome tent.

saiyuen

A fashion fueled by Covid

Glamping has been gaining momentum since the first hit of Covid-19. A report by Chinese tour operator CTrip shows that searches for camping activities increased eightfold in 2021.

During the Labor Day holiday in May 2022, figures from another platform, Qunar, reveal that ticket sales from parks that allow camping in China soared more than 50% from the same period l ‘last year.

Homestay bookings that provide camping-related services such as motorhomes and tents have also quadrupled in the country over the holidays compared to the same period last year, according to the rental site. Tujia holiday.

An adventure walk at the Saiyuen glamping site in Hong Kong.

An adventure walk at the Saiyuen glamping site in Hong Kong.

saiyuen

Covid-19 has certainly played a role in this new enthusiasm for luxury outdoor experiences.

The initial 2020 outbreak sealed China’s borders, keeping Chinese tourists at home. Recent Covid-19 outbreaks are estimated to have more than halved domestic travel, and people are vacationing even closer to home, as the potential consequences of travel have shifted from China’s lockdown to its lockdown. hometown.

Doubling down on its controversial “zero-Covid” policy, China has imposed tough measures including lockdowns and repeated rounds of mass testing to eradicate the last clusters.

The megacity of Shanghai has just emerged from a nine-week citywide lockdown that has banned all residents from leaving their apartments. In the capital Beijing, a “soft lockdown” lasting more than three weeks has forced millions of residents to work from home.

And there are echoes of previous outbreaks in Hong Kong.

Nearly two decades ago, when the SARS epidemic hit the city, Cheung took his first local hikes and campsites. It was then that he discovered “Hong Kong is such a fun place to explore”.

The Call of the Wild

While Song agrees that the rise of glamping can be attributed to Covid-19 restrictions, which have led people to value opportunities to connect with nature, she thinks there is something more. Namely, the concept of “living wildly”.

“Many of the lifestyles we see on social media are too glamorous. The café culture in Shanghai, for example, is a bit glamorous. They set a precedent for how we should ideally look, talk and live.”

But people are realizing that these lifestyles are missing something, Song notes. Picnicking, which was popular before glamping became the new craze, can no longer satisfy cravings to connect with nature.

Still, she carefully draws a line between “living wildly” and “living in the desert.”

“Some of my friends can just go camping on any mountain with just a backpack. It’s too much for me to handle. At least sanitary standards and basic living conditions shouldn’t be sacrificed “, she says.

The continued lure of spending time in the wilderness means the glamping trend is likely to remain, but is expected to drop “to a stable level” after travel restrictions are relaxed,” Cheung notes.

Of those who visit Saiyuen, about 60 percent are families, who “will always like to take their kids to a small local adventure island” during weekends, he adds.

Top image: Hong Kong’s Saiyuen glamping resort is located on Cheung Chau Island. 1 credit

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