'Ancient town' tourism must rely on local cultural assets, creative ideas
Published: May 07, 2023 11:24 PM
Promotional material for the Wuzhen Outdoor Carnival Photo: Courtesy of Wuzhen Theater Festival

Promotional material for the Wuzhen Outdoor Carnival Photo: Courtesy of Wuzhen Theater Festival

During the spring travel season, many tourists have been visiting ancient towns. However, some of these tourists have complained that the towns "all look alike." This indeed is an issue that deserves special attention, careful planning and creative thinking of local tourist departments. 

China's ancient town tourism started in the 1980s. In 1984, Zhouzhuang in Suzhou, East China's Jiangsu Province, branded itself as "an ancient water town" south of the Yangtze River. Under its influence, Wuzhen in East China's Zhejiang Province followed suit. 

From 2003 to 2005, a total of 44 historical and cultural cities were approved by the National Cultural Heritage Administration and more ancient towns were developed as tourist sites in provinces like Sichuan, Anhui, Jiangxi.  

However, after decades of development, these ancient towns have gradually lost their appeal to tourists. What's worse, the shops in these towns all offer the same food, such as sausage, yogurt and fried tofu, lacking any local features. 

According to media reports, 28,000 ancient towns have been developed or are being developed in China right now, but less than eight have been able to leave a mark on peoples' memories.

And this repetitive business model is damaging the reputation of ancient towns and, if not corrected, will eventually lead to their failure. 

Still, there are some successful examples we can look at. 

Wuzhen, located in the Taihu Lake watershed and along the Grand Canal, boasts picturesque natural landscapes and ancient cultural sites. In 2015, the Muxin Art Gallery, named after an artist who was born in Wuzhen, was launched. What's more, dramas, acting competitions, workshops and so on are often held in the 1,300-year-old town, creating a perfect combination of ancient scenery and modern cultural activities.  

To develop more "ancient towns" in China, more standards should be set, such as making use of unique local historical and cultural assets and having local residents who can introduce unique local lifestyles. Careful planning should also be carried out to establish high criteria for tourist services. The most important thing is to come up with innovative and novel activities.