Some newly emerging niche destinations in China have become new favorites among young travelers this winter.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions posted by various countries, travel abroad has broadly come to a halt and demand has therefore shifted to domestic destinations.
Hotel bookings nationwide for the Christmas/New Year's Day period jumped 30 percent year-on-year, according to Fliggy, the online travel arm of Alibaba Group.
This year, some smaller cities and lesser-known destinations, such as Garze, Sichuan province, Danzhou, Hainan province, Songyuan, Jilin province, and Zhuhai and Maoming in Guangdong province, have surged in popularity, according to data from Mafengwo, a travel service and social networking platform.
In winter, hot springs have become popular places to visit. Guangdong, known for its large hot spring resorts, has seen 17 cities in the province listed among the top destinations for winter trips this season, Mafengwo said.
"Winter travel in China is mostly centered in the southern and northern areas of the country. The south features tropical islands and hot springs, and the north focuses on ice and snow tours," said Feng Rao, director of travel research at Mafengwo.
"In winter, Chinese consumers still put a high priority on health and safety, and they try to avoid crowds of people to stay away from possible COVID-19 infections. Outdoor scenic spots and outdoor activities are more well-received compared with indoor tourism spots," Feng said.
Wang Yankun, general manager of Heilongjiang province-based Wolf Totem Travel Agency, said many travelers from South China are fond of going skiing in small groups in Northeast China.
"They have different kinds of equipment and like taking photos. When they come to Northeast China, they tend to stay longer, since snow is rare in South China," he said.
In December, bookings at hot spring resorts and nearby hotels in Guangdong jumped 75 percent over November. Hot spring resorts located closer to downtown areas have been more attractive among travelers, said Lvmama, another online travel agency based in Shanghai.
Besides Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou, the Garze Tibetan autonomous prefecture has become a popular destination for travelers to count down New Year's Eve, Fliggy said.
Garze's popularity was boosted by Tamdrin, whose name in Mandarin is Ding Zhen, a 20-year-old from the Tibetan ethnic group in Sichuan. He has gone viral on the internet for his good looks and was later appointed to promote tourism in Sichuan by posting short videos.
In early December, admission ticket sales to Daocheng Yading in Garze and some other sightseeing spots jumped more than 50 percent year-on-year. These venues are located about a 12-hour drive from Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, and thus travel there has significantly driven car rentals. During the period, car rental reservations in the area surged more than 100 percent year-on-year, Fliggy added.
"Garze has rich and unique Tibetan cultural elements and authentic natural beauty. Improved transportation conditions have attracted more self-driving travelers there after the contagion has come under better control in China. More travelers from Sichuan and nearby regions took trips there," said Wu Ruoshan at the Tourism Research Center, China Academy of Social Sciences.
In addition, the Macao Special Administrative Region has become a hot destination for travelers from the Chinese mainland. From Sept 23, Chinese mainland tourists from low-risk regions have been allowed to visit Macao without undergoing 14 days of quarantine, and they can also return without the need to quarantine.
In the first week of December, the number of people booking flights from Chinese mainland cities to Macao jumped more than 170 percent over the previous week, Fliggy said.