Holidays on wheels: China's caravan travellers

PHOTO: China Daily

Zeng Minping is such a huge fan of caravanning that he took his wife across 28 countries to Europe in 2012. "Caravan travel allows in-depth experiences and flexible schedules," says the 41-year-old from Guangdong province.

His love for caravanning has grown even more since he took his 4-year-old daughter across Russia and Poland to Germany in 2015.

"I wanted to travel with my daughter since I did not take her with us the previous time," he says.

And they ended up having an unforgettable time.

The family prepared food in the caravan for most of the trip, which made them feel at home.

They also met lots of interesting and helpful locals along the way.

Zeng is one of the growing breed of travellers in China who are taking a shine to caravans.

Caravan campsites in suburbs have become popular getaways for families and the outdoorsy crowd.Photo: China Daily

Approximately 8,000 recreational vehicles were sold in China last year, according to a report jointly compiled by the China Tourism Automobile and Cruise Association and the Tourism Research Center of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The number of caravan owners in China is now around 45,000, and the Chinese took 2.64 billion self-drive trips in 2016, up 12.8 per cent over the previous year, the report says.

As of now, around 3,200 clubs are committed to self-drive tours.

Meanwhile, in Beijing, caravan campsites in suburbs have become popular getaways for families and the outdoorsy crowd.

"We were fully booked during the Dragon Boat Festival," says Jiang Lili, the general manager of a Beijing caravan resort funded by the China Travel Service (Hong Kong) Ltd.

Parents who bring their children, those who love themed tours, and companies that hold team-building events are our main customers, says Jiang.

The resort in the northeastern Miyun district is a 1.5-hour drive from downtown.

There are now around 30 caravans at the resort.

Photo: China Daily

TV, WiFi and air conditioners are available in the caravans, some of which can house six people and cost about 1,500 yuan (S$305) for weekends and holidays and 800 yuan during the offseason.

At the resort, guests can enjoy fruit-picking and fishing besides barbecues and bonfire parties.

"We also have deals with many child-parent organisations and outdoor activity groups," says Jiang.

CTS HK purchased nearly 100 caravans from the US, 30 for the Beijing resort, and the rest for its Sichuan and Yunnan operations.

Meanwhile, the company is now focused on developing caravan networks and making things easier for caravan travellers.

"We believe that the caravan rental market holds great potential, and that things could mature in three to five years," says Jiang.

Speaking of the charm of caravanning, Jiang says that it is more like living in a mobile home.

Also, while domestic travels typically last for one to two weeks, self-drive trips could take more than a month, says Jiang.

Trips from the Sichuan, Qinghai and Yunnan provinces to the Tibet autonomous region are very popular with caravan travellers, she says.

As for outbound trips, driving from Yunnan across the border to Laos, Myanmar and Thailand is also popular.

Photo: China Daily

A total of 11 Chinese government ministries and commissions, including the National Tourism Administration, jointly issued a series of policies and measures to boost caravanning in November.

This has prompted industry players, including Jiang's company, to continue investing in the field.

In a related development, CTS HK has played a key part in hosting the annual All in Caravanning event since 2012.

The event is an expo that brings together caravan and component manufacturers and service providers worldwide in Beijing, and it will take place over June 23-25 this year.

The event has not only created business opportunities but also popularised the caravanning culture in China.

"There were not a lot of visitors at the first expo, and some who came out of curiosity had not even seen caravans," says Jiang.

But the number of visitors has been growing ever since, and audiences are increasingly knowledgeable. "Now they ask about oil consumption and refitting," says Jiang.

Last year's event saw the number of visitors doubling over the previous year, according to Jiang.

And many of them have travelled to the United States, New Zealand, Germany on the wheels, she adds.

For Zeng, sharing his caravanning experiences is also part of the fun.

He has written an online travelogue that has received more than 8 million views.

For the future, Zeng is throwing his hat in the ring to be a caravanning promotion ambassador.

"I'd like to share my travel experiences with more people and help them better understand caravans," he says.


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