High-speed rail travel to smaller towns creates new tourism hotspots
Published: Jul 09, 2024 12:59 AM
Foreign tourists enjoy themselves at Tiantan in Beijing. Photo: VCG

Foreign tourists enjoy themselves at Tiantan in Beijing. Photo: VCG

While major cities remain popular, exploring small towns via high-speed rail is becoming a popular option. Visa-free policies also mean that more foreign tourists are visiting China this summer.
On Qunar, a domestic travel platform, travelers from the US, South Korea, Russia, Vietnam, and Malaysia have shown the most interest in high-speed rail bookings, favoring two-hour high-speed rail journeys, such as going from Southwest China's Sichuan Province to Southwest China's Chongqing, according to a report Qunar sent to the Global Times. 

"I took the high-speed train from Zhuhai to Guangzhou. It is fantastic, much better than driving a car," Luke Serdar, a tourist from Australia told the Global Times on Monday. Serdar has 59,000 fans on Douyin and has published lots of content about travel in China.
In a two-hour high-speed rail zone around Shanghai and its surrounding cities, Yiwu in East China's Zhejiang Province is popular among foreign tourists. A foreign blogger noted that his childhood Christmas gifts were labeled "MADE IN CHINA," making him think Santa was Chinese. In Yiwu, he bought many sports products and said that its Olympic spirit is second only to Paris, according to Qunar's report. 

"We are highlighting lesser-known attractions such as rural tourism, small intangible cultural heritage projects, and the daily lives of people in second- and third-tier cities, which helps to present a more vibrant, diverse, and multi-dimensional China to foreigners," Wang Jinwei, a professor at the School of Tourism Sciences at Beijing International Studies University, told the Global Times on Monday.

China is vast, and foreigners are eager to visit many cities in a single trip. On the Qunar platform, a Russian traveler visited 16 cities within six months while a Turkish traveler visited 12 cities. Over 10 percent of foreign tourists returned for a second visit within six months. 

Serdar has visited five Chinese cities so far. He said that he likes the night markets and street food. "I am happy to say that the food in China is so good that I know I will be replacing my diet back home with Chinese food. Now I can understand why a foreigner would return home heavier."

"We hope more foreigners visit and share the 'real China' in international media. First-time visitors can see China's development, convenience, and safety. On subsequent visits, they can explore lesser-known spots and experience the local culture more deeply," Wang added. 

"Once I return to Australia I'll be doing what I can to get back here as quickly as possible. Yes, I love China that much! After 20 amazing days in China I will be strongly recommending it to my friends, who can utilise the 144-hour transit visa-free policy," Serdar added.

"The visa-free policy is a milestone in China's opening-up to the world. I believe it will eventually be extended to more countries or allow longer visa-free stays. This win-win policy enhances trade and cultural exchanges between China and other countries," Wang said. 

In the first half of this year, bookings from abroad on the eLong hotel-booking platform nearly doubled year-on-year. Hotels in major cities are expected to see significant growth in foreign guest bookings, according to a report from online travel platform Tongcheng. 

In the first half of 2024, there were 14.635 million foreign passenger trips into China, a year-on-year increase of 152.7 percent. Among these, 8.542 million were visa-free entries, accounting for 52 percent and marking a 190.1 percent year-on-year increase, according to data from the National Immigration Administration.