Yang Wei never expected she'd find high-end homestays in Guyuan before she visited the city in southern Ningxia Hui autonomous region with her family a few months ago.
She said the environment has also greatly improved in the city, which is located at the foot of the Liupan Mountains, and remembered that she found it difficult to find a dry toilet when she first came to Guyuan on a visit a few years ago.
"Now, there are intelligent toilets at many homestays," she said. "The environment is especially good, and my family is able to enjoy local specialties, including red trout and beef at the homestay in the evening while taking in the pleasant scenery."
Many of her friends from Beijing and Shenzhen, Guangdong province, also have a good impression after experiencing homestay tours in Ningxia following Yang's recommendation.
"Now, tourists find it hard to book a room in a nice homestay during the tourist season," she added.
Tourism authorities said that characteristic homestay clusters have become new tourist attractions in the region.
One particular success, the Yellow River homestay clusters in Zhongwei city, have even been the subject of the exhibition, Songs of the Earth: Artistic Documentary for a Better China, which was hosted by the China Academy of Art at the China Millennium Monument in Beijing in March.
The Yellow River homestay clusters, which incorporate Ningxia characteristics, have become a popular holiday resort themed on the desert, as well as the most popular and stylish new tourist attraction in Ningxia in recent years, local authorities said.
By restoring 200-year-old villages, the Yellow River homestay clusters have introduced homestays, camping, catering, galleries, bookstores and cultural and creative industries to promote experiences such as desert trips, personalized picnics and visits to prehistoric sites, creating a new, in-depth travel experience in western China.
In addition to enjoying delicious local cuisine, tourists can visit farms, stargaze, walk along the Great Wall, follow in-depth travel routes developed by hotels and experience the fun of wild luxury travel.
The rapid development of homestay tours has led to the rising popularity of local produce, including jujubes, dried sweet potatoes and red wine, said authorities.
Chen Zupin, a major homestay investor, said occupancy rates at his homestay by the Yellow River were 69 percent last year despite the impact of COVID-19, with the highest rates of occupancy between June and September.
Chen has opened five homestays, a restaurant, a bookstore and an art gallery and has organized a number of trips to deserts and ancient villages that have made him between 40 million ($6 million) to 60 million yuan a year in the previous two years.
"Most tourists come from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Chongqing, the Yangtze River delta and the Pearl River delta regions and Jiangsu and Sichuan provinces," Chen said.
"One tourist from Taiwan said he enjoyed the homestay tour very much and that the tour had helped him rediscover the western region of the country."
Chen said the tourist wrote him a letter to express his gratitude after he returned to Taiwan.
Cai Ju, deputy head of the publicity department of the Communist Party of China Ningxia Hui autonomous region committee and Party chief of the region's department of culture and tourism, said they would continue to promote and develop homestays and rural tours to help further rural vitalization in the months to come.
Ningxia has a wealth of rural tourism, with over 70 percent of the region's scenic spots, folk customs and cultural heritage concentrated in the countryside.
Fresh air, a beautiful environment, and a pristine country lifestyle have laid a good foundation for the development of homestays and tourism, she said.
In addition to the clusters by the Yellow River, Zhongwei has completed construction of desert homestay clusters, while Yinchuan, capital of Ningxia, has signed a contract for the Helan Mountain homestay clusters with the goal of creating a world-class wine tourism destination at the eastern foot of the mountains to promote Ningxia's homestay and tourism industries, said Cai.