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Self-drive holidays surge in popularity in China

Wu Yiyao
Updated: Oct 1,2015 10:56 AM     China Daily

A retired couple from Qingdao, Shandong province, on the roof of their motor home during a tour of Hainan province.[Photo by Liu Hailong for China Daily]

More than 60 percent of domestic holidays being taken in China are now “self-drive”, according to new research, prompting calls for an expansion of the country’s highway network and better roadside hospitality facilities.

The study, which surveyed tourists at hotels and tourist attractions in 40 cities in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces and in Shanghai, said that self-drive holidays contributed more than 100 billion yuan ($15.68 billion) to those regions’ tourism income, and 1 trillion yuan nationally.

“Some 300 million licensed drivers, and increasing numbers of private cars, have made self-drive touring part of their lifestyles, said Wang Zheng, the deputy head and a researcher at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, which compiled the figures.

More than 2.2 billion self-drive trips were made in 2014, said Wang.

The research, jointly carried out by Xinhua News Agency’s Shanghai bureau, the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, and the Yangtze River Delta Self-Driving Tour Experts Committee, said that the cities of Hangzhou, Suzhou, Shanghai, Ningbo and Wuxi were the region’s most popular destinations, due to their rich tourism-friendly facilities, cultural heritage, quality services and popular local cuisine.

Self-drive tourists are spending more than the average tourist per head: some 5,000 yuan per year, according to the research.

Five percent of the 120,000 tourists questioned said they spend in excess of 10,000 yuan on self-drive tours over the past 12 months.

The increasing number of self-drive holidaymakers, meanwhile, has also pushed up demands on catering and the quality of service at expressway services areas.

Two-day trips were the most popular (a resounding 90 percent), with many saying they enjoyed staying overnight at their destinations, according to data from, the online booking platform.

A parking lot for self-drive tourists near the Shennongjia Nature Reserve in Hubei province.[Photo provided to China Daily]

“There are many incentives for choosing self-drive tours,” said Zhang Zhiqiang, a 28-year-old Shanghai school teacher.

“Sometimes I simply drive two hours from Shanghai to stay in Suzhou, to eat some local seasonal food, such as meat-stuffed moon cakes in autumn or crabs in early winter.

“If there are any events going on such as art exhibitions, I may stay overnight for a day-tour-I’m pretty flexible,” said Zhang, who said he spends an average 1,500 yuan on eating, admission tickets to museums and shows, hotels, road tolls and gas during a typical trip.

The rising demand for self-drive tours has also helped boost sales of Sport Utility Vehicles, said market insiders.

“It is obvious that SUVs are growing in popularity among Chinese car buyers,” said Chang Xiawei, the sales manager with a United States-based auto brand in Shanghai.

“SUVs have been replacing sedans as they can carry more people and more equipment, such as tents, fishing rods and barbecue kits.

“They can handle any terrain, too, such as muddy roads in the mountains.”

SUVs have accounted for around 30 percent of the growth in private car sales since 2014, according to data from Nomura International (Hong Kong) Ltd.

As a result, there has also been a rise in demand for tourist facilities aimed at self-driving families with children.

In Hangzhou, for instance, several hotels and resorts offer packages that include items such as hiking, fishing, riding and biking, admission tickets to shows and art performances, or lake cruises, as well as all food and board.

“Hotels and resorts are seeing more children staying than ever before. Self-driving makes traveling with children much easier, and these younger travelers nowadays are much more widely exposed to the world than their parents,” said Chen Gang, deputy head of Ningbo Tourism Bureau.

“The needs of children are often the most important consideration when families choose their destinations.”

The most confident self-drive tourists are also trying to explore the world by car, marking another huge growth opportunity for tour operators.

“We have seen a rising demand for overseas car-rental services, international driving license applications and international car insurance,” said Lin Aili, the manager of Shanghai Lijiang Travel Ltd.

“Although less than 1 percent of self-drive tourists are doing their driving overseas, I expect those numbers to surge, as that type of holiday gains popularity among increasingly well-traveled Chinese tourists.”