A patch of lawn is the hottest destination in China at the moment as travelers swap foreign skylines for short camping trips to the local park during the pandemic.
“Every inch of grass in city centers was occupied by camping tents over the recent May Labor Day long holiday,” Alibaba Group Chairman and CEO Daniel Zhang observed in discussion with employees on May 10.
Before the pandemic, many people used the public holiday between May 1 and May 4 to travel outside the country.
No longer. Annual outbound travel plunged 86.9% year-on-year in 2020, recovering to only 17% of 2019 levels in 2021, China’s Tourism Academy found, leaving millions itching to try new activities closer to home.
So as restrictions continue, Chinese people are turning to national parks, country fields and even city green spaces for a break from the ordinary.
“Camping is the new social key and the best option to get away from daily life,” said Xiao Ye, founder of Hangzhou-based camping brand Blackdeer.
Ye is one of many merchants keeping customers well-supplied for their outdoor adventures, which run the gamut from afternoon picnics to spending several nights under the stars.
Users of Alibaba B2C e-commerce site Tmall can choose between more than 1,700 merchants for camping-related purchases, nearly double the number of outfitters this time last year.
Sales of outdoor coffee kettles, camping furniture and grill plates rose 300% between April 20 and May 4, according to a Labor Day Holiday consumption report published by Tmall .
The country’s camping market will grow 18.6% to top RMB35.45 billion ($5.22 billion) this year, according to estimates from research outfit iiMedia Research.
Camping In Comfort
Merchants like Ye are not outfitters for the typical camping experience abroad, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any of the ragged tents, strung up tarps or battered pots and pans that festoon campsites in North America and Europe.
Chinese consumers are treading a more luxurious path with glamping – also known as glamor camping.
Urban and rural green spaces are transformed into high-end camping experiences with chaise lounges, carpets, barbecues and fireworks – all preserved in posed photos for social media, of course.
To be sure, these items do not always come cheap. Mother of one Jingying Li has spent more than RMB10,000 ($1,400) on equipment since first trying camping last year.
But her trips to Sichuan Province in China’s southwest, where she and her three-year-old pitch their tents with friends and family, are worth it.
“I want my son to get close to nature and have more experience than staying in a hotel,” she told Alizila.
Here to Stay
Outdoor experiences started trending as the pandemic prevented Chinese people from traveling abroad. Camping gear merchants are determined to outlast it.
“The pandemic has positively boosted sales of camping gear,” said Ze Xing, who oversees the Tmall’s camping category. Outdoor gear and camping sales on the platform climbed 100% in March compared to the same time last year.
For its part, Blackdeer has seen 50% annual customer growth with a commendable 30% repurchase rate during recent promotions.
This is an achievement, considering the durability of the brand’s gear. “The service life of outdoor equipment is relatively long and the repurchase cycle may be five years or longer,” Ye noted.
To keep these figures up even as China reopens for overseas travel, he is doubling down on providing a smooth customer experience and started preparations for the 6.18 Mid-Year Shopping Festival in March to avoid last-minute logistics challenges.
Delivery for Chinese camping and equipment providers may be coming on a much smaller set of wheels, though.
Sales of children’s skateboards doubled over the Labor Day holiday, according to Tmall, giving families one more reason to get outside.