a family of three and their golden retriever walking by a large orange tent

Is China’s Camping Craze Over?

The pandemic led to an explosion in the popularity of camping in China. Since China’s borders reopened last December, though, the craze has shown signs of slowing

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11:35 AM HKT, Wed April 12, 2023 2 mins read

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdowns and social distancing measures pushed young Chinese people to seek outdoor experiences and idyllic campsites (and ‘glamp’-sites), a trend that continued through 2021 and 2022. This year, however, campground owners in China are already reporting fewer visitors, a sign that the camping fad might be fading.

The digital media outlet Cover News, based in Southwest China’s Sichuan province, recently reported that as many as 90% of the 400-plus campgrounds in or around the provincial capital, Chengdu, are losing money and that they have not seen the springtime increase they expected so far.

camping in china, china glamping, camping china

City Starry campsite in Chengdu. Image via Xiaohongshu

“Last year’s May Day holiday was the hottest time [for campsite reservations],” a campground owner told Cover News. “After that, many people were reluctant to travel due to high summer temperatures, so business wasn’t that good. There was a short-term rise [in October] for National Day, but business has been worse and worse since then.”

Though, according to the Baidu search index, searches for ‘camping’ (露营, luying) are about 19% higher now than they were at this time last year, this increase may not be enough to sustain the boom of new campgrounds that opened last summer.

“I only know of one profitable campground,” he said. “The rest disappear before they even begin to make money.”

New Year, New Destinations

The initial camping craze was primarily driven by China’s Covid-related travel restrictions, which made international travel difficult for most people in the country. Unable to leave the Chinese mainland, a population suffering from cabin fever looked to camping as an escape.

The number of posts on the Chinese lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu related to camping quadrupled in 2021, while searches for camping on Baidu reached an all-time high in May last year.

After China reopened its borders last December, however, there was an instant surge of outbound flight bookings. Now that the country’s cooped-up tourists can go further afield, they are flocking to the beaches of Thailand rather than the forests of Sichuan province.

A Blessing in Disguise?

The slowing flow of campers doesn’t spell the end for the camping industry, though.

Last year, the Chinese government released a set of guidelines encouraging the creation of more campsites and setting rules for their management, a move that has already bolstered the industry.

And, as the Cover News reporter wrote, “the decline in the number of campgrounds can force the industry to improve, eliminate some smaller camps, and make them focus on good service and hospitality.”

The ebb may also be important for preserving China’s wilderness.

Over the past couple of years, there have been many reports of campers leaving their garbage strewn across China’s wild spaces-turned-tourist destinations. The negative impacts of mass tourism became so bad in some scenic wilderness areas that officials actually halted tourism.

litter on a beijing mountainside

Litter on a mountain path in Beijing. Image via Xiaohongshu

Chen Peng, an employee at a campground outside Beijing, told Chinanews.com last year, “Novice campers are not unaware of environmental protection needs, but they do not know enough about how to reduce pollution outdoors.”

It is arguably beneficial, then, for the camping craze to slow down so that industry regulations can catch up.

Cover image via Depositphotos

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