Camper and RV roadtrips gaining popularity in China
Roughly 61 percent of 3.6 billion trips made by Chinese tourists last year have been self-drive trips as more Chinese are touring with RVs.
More Chinese are taking recreational vehicles to tourist spots both inside and outside the country, and industry insiders say the trend will only grow.
Yang Bei took her family touring half the world last June in a recreational vehicle.
They spent 136 days traveling from Beijing across Mongolia, Russia, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Spain to Portugal and then doubled back.
"Traveling in a camper allowed us to fully take in views and experience different folk customs along the way," Yang says.
Throughout the trip, Yang's family cooked and bathed inside their camper.
"During the trip, the vehicle felt like home to us and saved us money that we could use to buy a new car," she says.
As an alternative to traditional touring, traveling in recreational vehicles has gained ground among Chinese.
"We've seen great momentum in the development of China's recreational vehicle industry, although it has just started," says Ye Shengji, deputy secretary-general of China Association of Automotive Manufacturers, an industry body.
To date, China has around 15,000 recreational vehicles and the figure will likely reach 500,000 in the next five years, Ye says.
Roughly 61 percent of 3.6 billion trips made by Chinese tourists last year have been self-drive trips, says Liu Hanqi, secretary-general of the China Tourism Automobile and Cruise Association.
"An increasing number of self-drive travelers have chosen recreational vehicles," he adds.
Recreational vehicle clubs have been established in many parts of China and travel agencies have also developed routes for this model, Liu explains.
"The industry will surely have a bright future, and we need to cultivate this new leisure and camping culture," Liu says.
The State Council, China's cabinet, has affirmed its support to recreational vehicle and camping development in the country, and a total of 18.5 billion yuan ($3 billion) has already been invested in the sector. The number of campsites is expected to see a nationwide expansion in the next couple of years, he says.
The national standards on caravan camping site construction were unveiled at the All in Caravaning 2015, an expo that brought together caravan and component manufacturers and service providers worldwide in Beijing from June 26-28.
"Those standards will play a leading role in improving recreational vehicle travel development and quality," Liu says.
At the moment, there are more than 200 such campsites in operation nationwide. Approximately 500 of which are either under construction or already planned.
Beijing has 23 camping facilities up and running, 21 under construction and 78 planned, says Li Yan, an official with the Beijing Tourism Industry Association's auto-camping branch.
The expo showed the rapid development of the camping industry in China.
"There were only fewer than 50 exhibitors in the first session of the expo (in 2012)," says Tian Qun, general manager of China CTS Asset Management Corp, one of the expo's organizers, along with the German company Messe Dusseldorf's Shanghai office and the Recreational Vehicle Industry Committee under the China Association of Automotive Manufacturers.
This year's event attracted more than 300 exhibitors, including global caravan leaders like Adria, Dethleffs, Forest River and Knaus Tabbert as well as well-known international caravan parts providers, such as Truma, Dometic, Camec and Outdoor Revolution.
Tian points out that when they conducted surveys at auto shows seven years ago, only six out of 100 visitors had heard of caravan travel or had related experiences
"But the people who came to the expo asked us very professional questions," she says.
The large population base and vast natural landscape resources make China an ideal place for travel by recreational vehicles and that potential is drawing many global caravan players here.
"I believe China's caravan market is promising," says Marco De Bonis, Adria Mobil's director of operations in China. "In my opinion, China will be a world's (caravan) leader in five years."
The company spent two years doing market research in China, and the research has turned out some interesting results.
Compared with European travelers, Chinese prefer more compact and shorter caravans.
With a C1 driving license, Chinese feel more comfortable driving vehicles that are shorter than 6 meters long, while Europeans are accustomed to driving vehicles more than 10 meters long, Bonis explains.
"This (smaller space) means we not only have to downsize our products but also refigure the inner layout to cater to Chinese customers' habits," he says.
The research found that Chinese care more about living room space, not so much the bedroom.
"They want to spend more time doing things like playing mahjong in the living room," Bonis says.
However, campsites are underdeveloped in China, compared with Europe. A campsite shouldn't be just a piece of land but should have water and electricity supplies, and sewage system for caravans, as well as green space, Bonis says.
Italy is about as big as a Chinese province, but it has roughly 3,000 campsites, as opposed to 300 in China. "So, there's huge potential for development," he says.
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