ON THE ROAD
More Chinese tourists are exploring the country frombehind the wheels of rented cars. Yang Feiyue reports.
First he flew. Then he drove.
Li Yujun hopped a plane to Yunnan’s provincial capital, Kunming, and then rented a car to explore Dali and Lijiang, and Guizhou province’s Xingyi in early June.
The 32-year-old Beijinger plans to tour the Tibet autonomous region in a rented car this month.
“Driving allows me to go where I want without having to haul luggage,” he says.
“I don’t have time to drive from my home, so renting works out.”
He can rest assured the car has been cared for. And the fact it isn’t his reminds him to be careful.
Li’s recent trip took him through cities, along dirt roads that coiled up mountainsides and across misty flatlands.
“The weather was fickle,” he recalls.
“Driving enabled me to experience diverse climates.”
Stones sometimes tumbled onto the roads during his drive from Lijiang to Lugu Lake. He could hear explosions— blasting to clear the way for new roads.
He stopped to spend four hours hiking three mountains.
“It was a shaky climb,” he recalls.
“But everything was worth it when the lake view appeared.”
Li is among an emerging group of Chinese who are renting cars as more people get driver’s licenses and seek immersive travel.
About 320 million people in the country held a license as of the end of last year, the Ministry of Public Security’s traffic administration reports.
Over 40 percent of travelers who book through China’s biggest online travel agency, Ctrip, rent cars. The company’s rentals are growing at 150 percent year-on-year, says Wang Yuchen, CEO of Ctrip’s ground transportation division.
Rentals have doubled in Yunnan’s Dali and Lijiang, and in Guizhou’s capital, Guiyang.
Roughly 40 percent of renters are from Beijing and Shanghai. There’s strong growth among residents of Guangdong province’s Shenzhen and capital, Guangzhou; Sichuan province’s capital, Chengdu; and Zhejiang province’s capital, Hangzhou.
“We’ve found most renters prefer three-day trips,” Wang says.
The agency’s car-rental business covers nearly 300 cities nationwide.
Rental costs an average of about 560 yuan ($84) a day for a three-day trip in Hainan’s provincial capital, Sanya— the nation’s top destination for car rentals — which is roughly half the price of tailored taxi services, Ctrip reports.
People between 25 and 35 account for 50 percent of car renters, and travelers 35-45 account for 25 percent, Ctrip reports. Three times as many men as women rent cars.
Desires for convenience and freedom are steering the growth, especially among younger travelers.
Li Chengrui doesn’t like to be bound by a schedule when traveling. The 24-year-old Beijinger has rented cars to travel to Qinghai Lake, Gansu province and Yanqi Lake because he believes traveling by car offers more freedom.
“We just drove through the scenic spots,” Li says.
“If we’re tired or find a gorgeous place, we can stop and do whatever we want. We can play our favorite songs on the road. The trips were awesome. I’ll never forget them.”
Driving is convenient since attractions are spread out.
Chen Tong agrees driving is faster than public transport.
The 23-year-old college graduate from Guangdong province enjoyed freedom when she rented a car with her former roommates to travel to the Conghua Hot Springs near Guangzhou as a graduation trip.
They decided to rent a car since the location was only two hours from their home but public transport wasn’t convenient.
Two of the women were eager to use their new driver’s licenses.
Having a car also made pick-up easy since the group had scattered around the city since moving out of the dorms.
The only problems were rental proved complicated and expensive for a student budget, especially since they opted for a safe vehicle. But she’s glad she did. “It was a rainy day,” Chen says.
“Driving on the highway was like steering a boat … (It) was really scary.”
She says she’d rent a car to travel again if the destination was within a three-hour drive.
Indeed, it seems the need for speed and the desire to steer their own courses will continue to drive China’s car rental market.
Zhao Yi (above right) and Li Yujun (above left) are among an emerging group of Chinese who are renting cars to explore various destinations.