Guideline signals support for rural homestays
Rural homestays, one of the propellants of the nation's rural vitalization and economic recovery, are attracting more resources and investments both from the central government and the private sector thanks to rosy growth prospects.
Earlier in July, 10 central departments including the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the National Rural Revitalization Administration released a guideline for more scientific and comprehensive planning of rural homestay development.
In the guideline, the development of rural homestays is to be included in the overall planning of the tourism industry, land management and economic development to make sure that homestay construction won't damage farmland or the environment.
The design and construction of homestays are encouraged to include elements of local customs and natural views.
Operators of homestays are also encouraged to tailor different products that are reasonably priced to attract travelers, such as agricultural experiences and handicraft activities.
Industry associations, vocational schools and companies are also encouraged to channel their resources to help train talent in homestay design, construction, management and services. Migrant workers and college graduates will enjoy more supporting policies if they return to their hometown to start a homestay, according to the guideline.
"The homestay is a result of the sharing economy, which has developed in its natural course without systematic management," said Zhu Shengxuan, founder of Xband Tourism Group, a Shanghai-headquartered homestay company.
"Developing the homestay industry is an important driver for rural vitalization," he said.
Hu Yang, vice-president of Tujia, a property rental platform and homestay operator, praised the guideline and noted travelers have shown a growing preference for rural homestays in the past few years.
"The COVID-19 epidemic has changed people's traveling preferences, under which self-driving and short-distance tours to the countryside have outperformed traditional long-distance trips. Travelers now prefer trips with better privacy, natural views and a rural culture experience, making rural homestays the best choice for them," he said.
He added that encouraging villagers to use their vacant land to build homestays can help bring these land resources back into active use. "It's also a key point for rural homestay development in the next three years to encourage farmers to operate their own homestays using their own houses, which can help them increase incomes."
Zha Tingting, director of Tuniu's short-distance travel division, said: "Opening homestays in rural areas has become a popular choice for entrepreneurs thanks to the increasing popularity of rural tourism and official policies on vitalizing the countryside. It's a good way to invigorate the rural economy and attract young people to find jobs there."
Hu Yang, Tujia's vice-president, said that the high investment and lower occupancy rate during the low season make it difficult for homestay operators.
He hoped that the nation can give some tax breaks to rural homestay operators, or subsidized loans. Online travel platforms can also give coupons to their users to attract them to stay in rural homestays at off-peak times.
In 2020, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs projected the rural tourism market would generate over 1.2 trillion yuan ($173 billion) in revenue by 2025.