Flower Tourism Blooms
Guo Jie, a 24-year old vendor selling cold rice noodles in east Beijing's Pinggu District, set out for Beizhai Village at a dawn of early April.
"Customers to my stall double during the flowering season," Guo, also a villager nearby, told Beijing Review. She usually sells noodles at a town fair in Pinggu, but during the next two months she will migrate to rural areas, where flowers are in full bloom. Beizhai Village, seeped in apricot blossoms and bursting with tourists as of April, is her first stop.
Pinggu, bordering north China's Tianjin Municipal and Hebei Province, boast 10,000 mu (667 hectares) of apricot and 220,000 mu (14.67 hectare) of peach orchards, respectively--the largest peach fields in the world. Thanks to the blankets of colorful blooms in April, the district has become a popular weekend destination for Beijingers.
"I often take my family on excursions to Pinggu. Sometimes we spend the weekend in rural homestays with other friends," Cai Hui, a 34-year old staff member of a mobile medical service provider in Beijing, told Beijing Review.
Pinggu offers not only flowers, but also diverse cultural activities, including the annual Peach Blossom and Music Festival, traditional lion dancing competitions, Taoist Culture Festival, and also hiking. The Pinggu 18th International Peach Blossom and Music Festival lasts from April 1 to May 31, themed "Relaxing in Waves of Flowers."
Pinggu is not alone in the flowering season. As flowers are awoken by spring, a mania of bloom-viewing emerges throughout China. Rapeseed flowers in Wuyuan, east China's Jiangxi Province, peach blooms in Nyingchi, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, cherry blossoms in Wuhan University in central China's Hubei Province and Yuyuantan Park in Beijing are all crowd-pullers.
One hundred thousand visitors enjoyed the blossoming flowers in Yuyuantan Park on March 23, the first day of the annual cherry blossom festival, which lasts for a nearly month. According to the Beijing Municipal Administration Center for Parks, 1,100,000 tourists visited the 11 parks citywide on the first weekend in April.
Wuyuan also witnesses a flower travel rush as of late February, when the rapeseed flowers begin to blossom. Wuyuan Highspeed Railway Station, since March 12 has added four special trains every weekend to carry tourists, with an average capacity at 95 percent full. And the tourist flows amount to 6,092 and 10,133 on March 13 and 20—a period when rapeseed flowers are in full bloom. The flow is much larger than the one experienced at the station in the 2016 Spring Festival travel rush, (known as Chunyun, lasting from January 24 to March 3, one of the world's largest annual human migrations) when 3,600 passengers passed by in one day.
Undoubtedly, flower-viewing has become a popular leisure activity for the Chinese this spring. Some even fly to Japan and South Korea, as well as the Netherlands to enjoy the blooms.
Reasons behind the surge
One factor contributing to the hysteria is the improved transport network in China.
According to the Ministry of Transport, the total mileage of China's railway by the end of 2015 amounted to 120,000 km. For roads, the figure was 4,570,000 km and for waterways, 13,600 km. Eighty one percent of west China's villages are accessible via roads. Also, the number of airports has been increased to 214.
The convenient transport network makes more and more flower fields in rural areas accessible--witness the big rise in flower viewers in small towns and remote villages this year.
Upgrades in agriculture and reform in rural areas is another factor contributing to the trend. Agricultural modernization has been high on the Central Government's agenda in recent years. Rural areas with vast flower fields are encouraged to develop flower-driven tourism, offering varied farm produce and authentic folk culture. Some old houses are redecorated and transformed into unique homestays, making accommodation within reach for tourists.
Further contributing to the rush is the trend of Chinese people seeking a more relaxing lifestyle. Due to the new normal of economic development with slowed growth, many citizens feel more pressure in their careers, thus they try to retreat into their shells and reinstate traditional family life, according to Zhu Shanjie, a research fellow from Shanghai University. Spending the weekends with family members and friends in the open air is a good way to kill time.
Yet problems arise as the flower fields are flooded with tourists. Traffic jams in scenic spots—usually small villages---are frequently seen. The shortage of parking lots is another headache for car using tourists.
"It usually takes one and a half hours for me to reach Beizhai Village by car. But the travel time today doubles, due to a traffic jam and I can't find a place to park my car until now, " Zhang Xiuhong, a 58-year old tourist from downtown Beijing told Beijing Review.
To address the problem, local governments have rolled out some measures. For example, the Pinggu Government has released several flower-viewing routes through media outlets, advising tourists to choose different options. Besides newly built parking lots, the local outdoor peach fair, usually open in August when peaches are ripe, is used for temporary parking lots.
"Traffic flow information is updated in real time via radio and the Internet, during the flowering season," Ma Chunjiang, chief of the Public Relation Section of Pinggu District Commission of Tourism, told Beijing Review.
Copyedited by Dominic James Madar