source：China Daily editor：Wenny
Tourists prepare food at a rural homestay in Binzhou, Shandong province. [PHOTO BY CHU BAORUI/FOR CHINA DAILY]
Short-distance travel, rural homestays, and clean and high-quality accommodations are gaining in popularity among Chinese tourists, although the country's short-term rental and homestay service industry has been hit hard by COVID-19.
"Chinese travelers have been preferring short-haul trips and pay more attention to the safety, quality and cleanliness of accommodations since the outbreak of the pandemic," said Hu Yang, senior vice-president of Tujia, a Chinese short-term lodging rental platform.
He said there are more than 2 million online housing units listed on Tujia, with rural homestays witnessing the fastest growth among all types of shared accommodation.
In 2021, the number of orders for rural homestays on the Tujia platform increased by 30 percent on a yearly basis compared with 2020, generating more than 2 billion yuan ($314.6 million) for hosts living in rural areas, the company said.
"The proportion of rural homestays in total short-term rentals has risen from 30 percent before the pandemic to about 40 percent," Hu said, while noting cross-provincial travels have been restricted due to the pandemic and short-haul routes are favored by travelers, which will give a big boost to the development of rural homestays.
Tujia data showed the bookings for short-term rentals listed on its app/website for the upcoming Tomb Sweeping Day holiday fell compared with the same period last year amid the recent resurgence of COVID-19 infections in some major Chinese cities.
The average price of short-term rental accommodations declined by 18 percent year-on-year during this period. However, the rural homestays in Lijiang, Sanya, Xiamen, Dali, Beihai and Suzhou are favored by tourists.
Altay prefecture in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region has seen the fastest growth in booking volume, followed by Suining,Guang'an, Deyang and Panzhihua in Sichuan province, where the pandemic is under better control.
A report from the Sharing Economy Research Center, which is part of the State Information Center, said the market size of the shared accommodation sector declined by 3.8 percent in 2021, compared with the same period a year earlier due to the pandemic and the adjustment of supervisory policies in some cities.
Rural homestays are playing a vital role in bolstering the recovery of the tourism industry and driving rural revitalization, Hu said, adding many landlords have expanded their operations and improved the quality of shared homes.
Tujia said rural tourism is a popular option among urban residents and more than 60 percent of the post-1980 and post-1990 consumers have booked rural homestays. Moreover, people tend to travel with their family members, lovers or friends, and the average length of stay is two nights.
Bookings for homestays in Yushu Tibetan autonomous prefecture in Qinghai province, Nagchu, Tibet autonomous region, and Bortala Mongol autonomous prefecture,Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region surged over 1,000 percent year-on-year in 2021.
Hu said tourists want to get away from the hustle and bustle of cities, embrace nature and enjoy more dining and entertainment experiences when staying at rural homestays.
He is optimistic about the prospects of the short-term vacation rental industry, saying Chinese consumers have been displaying rising demand for personalized and tailor-made travel.
People's pent-up travel demand will be released when the pandemic wanes, said Wang Ke, an analyst from market consultancy Analysys, who said she is bullish on rural homestays.
Lai Zhen, an analyst at market consultancy iResearch, said short-term home rentals and homestay services are wide-ranging to satisfy the needs of various kinds of tourists. "Typically, customers hire such services for get-togethers, reunions, team-building activities and to improve parent-child bonding and communication," Lai said.