ON THE ROAD

More Chi­nese tourists are ex­plor­ing the coun­try frombe­hind the wheels of rented cars. Yang Feiyue re­ports.

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - Con­tact the writer at yangfeiyue@chi­nadaily.com.cn Paige Sh­effield con­trib­uted to this story.

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.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Zhao Yi (above right) and Li Yu­jun (above left) are among an emerging group of Chi­nese who are rent­ing cars to ex­plore var­i­ous des­ti­na­tions.

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