Where Do 1.3 Billion People Go? Family Getaways, China Style

It’s summertime and the time is ripe to get away. When I was a kid that meant an over-packed Ford station wagon filled with gear and kids and parents and a dog. Then we set off for campgrounds or beaches. Following my friends in the USA on Facebook, I see similar stories unfolding today (Hi Pam! How’s the beach?)

No station wagons were hurt in the taking of this photograph.

That lead me to wonder – what do families in China do today? While many pack up for overseas holidays, where are the domestic holiday spots?

A very crowded beach in China

As for many worldwide, it’s sometimes easiest to take a short trip. In a report at the turn of the century, Peking University professors noted the trend towards shorter breaks within vicinity of home:

“Domestic tourists frequently take medium short-distance sightseeing trips and short-distance weekend vacations, which forms ReBAM (Recreational belt around metropolis), a new tourist spatial pattern.”  (Source: Trends in China’s domestic tourism development at the turn of the century)

ReBAM is a great way to say the development of theme parks and hotels within a reasonable driving distance of major cities. In the USA, there are nine cities with a population of more than 1 million. In China, there are 153. By 2020 there are expected to be 220 cities in China with more than 1 million people.

Across the border from Hong Kong is Shenzhen – a flourishing metropolis with 9 million residents. (Just 30 years ago there were 50,000 calling Shenzhen home.) In the city is a cluster of theme parks including Happy Valley – a great destination for thrill seekers. Similar parks are available near many major cities in China.

Happy Valley, Shenzhen, China

“The Chinese middle class is already larger than the entire population of the United States.” (Source: Essential China Travel Trends 2012)

The rise of the middle class in China is putting pressure on domestic tourism infrastructure. The USA has a population of 317 million with 4.9 million hotel rooms. China has a population of 1.345 billion and only 2.3 million hotel rooms, according to a report published by Thayer Lodging Group. While the US has a longer-established middle class, the rise of the middle class is providing new opportunities for hotel developers.

Source: Thayer Group presentation to Cornell University

What’s interesting to note is that only 15% of hotels in China are affiliated with a major brand. All others are local “Mom & Pop” hotels reminiscent of the USA in the 1960’s. In the Adirondacks we stayed with relatives next to the “Dew Drop Inn.” I was 8 before I got the double-entendre (call me slow).

Some might consider China a hot market for in-bound tourism (travelers arriving from other countries). Yet the demand for hotel rooms comes from a 9% year-on-year growth in domestic tourism. My recent holiday at the beach in Shenzhen showed what statistics claim. In a packed luxury hotel, there was only one other Western family that we saw. All others were from China or nearby Hong Kong. (See my earlier post: Postcard from China: Beach Holiday in Shenzhen.)

Along with nearby theme parks or beaches, Chinese flock to national parks:

“Sightseeing is the main form of tourist product, mostly taking national parks as destinations. At present, there are 119 national parks and 500 provincial parks in the country.” (Source: Trends in China’s domestic tourism development at the turn of the century)

And with options like the one shown below, who wouldn’t? Please note this report may be outdated as today Wikipedia lists 208 national parks.

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park

Beaches. Car trips to theme parks. Sightseeing in national parks. It seems the Chinese domestic traveler isn’t that different from his American counterpart. All you need to know, then, is one essential Chinese phrase, listed below and translated further down by The Simpsons


The single worst phrase a traveling parent can here!


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