More tourists driving themselves

Updated: 2013-10-14 06:33

By Han Tianyang (China Daily)

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 Govt report: Trend evident over National Day holiday

With rates of automobile ownership on the rise nationwide, more and more Chinese people are choosing to drive themselves when on vacation.

Car rental companies also got a boost over the past holiday from the growing numbers of tourists interested in driving themselves rather than riding tour buses or other forms of mass transportation.

During the past National Day holiday, Beijing dentist Lei Yue and her husband drove to a forest park in neighboring Hebei province.

They have frequently ventured out of the capital to nearby attractions since buying their first car earlier this year.

"Owning a car has indeed changed my way of travel a lot," Lei said.

More tourists driving themselves

"We used to take public transportation when traveling, but now that we have bought our own car, we mostly drive to places, especially if it is within a few hundred kilometers," she said.

"The best thing about driving yourself is freedom, while taking public transportation could be very tiresome," she said.

Guo Xiaochuan, an employee of a Beijing insurance company, is also a fan of driving tours.

"I love it because I could enjoy the scenery along the way, and I'm free to stop to take photos wherever I feel like," she said.

"On the contrary, traveling with the agencies offers no freedom at all."

Guo took some days off before the past National Day holiday and completed a long drive from Beijing to Shaanxi, Henan, Chongqing, Sichuan, and then back to the capital city.

"To plan a driving tour can be very flexible, but traveling with public transportation usually has a more fixed itinerary because you have to book tickets in advance," she said.

"Economically speaking, a driving tour is not expensive either," she added.

Like Lei and Guo, many Chinese now prefer to travel on their own wheels.

And the trend has been seen in the rising numbers of people choosing this mode of transportation over National Holiday.

'Notable feature'

A report released on the official website of China National Tourism Administration said that a "notable feature" of the tourism market over the National Day holiday was a significant increase in the amount of people driving themselves while on holiday, especially on medium-and short-distance trips.

According to the report, in Shennongjia, a famous tourism attraction in Hubei province, more than 80 percent of the visitors that came during the National Day holiday were driving their own vehicles.

And in the Wudang Mountains, also in Hubei, the number of visiting private vehicles reached 12,700 units on the single day of Oct 3.

Similarly, Hunan province's historic Yueyang Tower received a record number of vehicles - nearly 5,000 - on one day.

And in the Tianzhu Mountains in Anhui, a parking lot capable of holding 3,500 vehicles was not enough, so several temporary parking lots had to be opened.

Analysts said that the toll-free policy for highways during holidays as well as the increase in group travel prices that accompanied the newly enacted Travel Law partly contributed to the boom of driving tours.

However, this sudden shift in the behavior of tourists nationwide posed a lot of problems for the nation's traffic infrastructure.

Rong Yu, an IT engineer in Beijing, took a drive to the Changbai Mountains in Jilin province on National Day holiday.

He left the capital two days before the holiday, and traffic was relatively smooth, but when he returned on Oct 5, the number of cars on the road had "increased significantly", he said.

Rong recalls passing two service areas on the highway and hesitating to refuel there because the waiting line was so long. "Finally I had to stop in the next service area to refuel the car and wait for about 40 minutes," he said.

"One of the biggest headaches about driving tours is dealing with traffic jams," said the dentist Lei, who experienced a similar, crowded travel experience in the holiday.

She and her husband started off before 7 am on Oct 1, but the traffic on the highway had already slowed to a crawl.

At about half past 12, they were stuck on a congested one-lane road 30 km away from the destination, and they arrived at the park after 2 pm.

On Oct 3, it took them another seven hours to return to Beijing.

"I will still consider driving tours for future holidays but will certainly try to avoid the peak time," Lei said.

"It would be the best if we can have more days off for our own annual vacations instead of the long national holidays," she said, adding that she'd rather pay the toll fee if it could make the road less crowded.

Car rental boom

Car rentals skyrocketed over the holiday on the back of the growing tourism trend.

To better meet consumer demand, China Auto Rental Holdings Inc added 10,000 new vehicles to its fleet before the holiday. The nation's biggest car rental service provider started to receive orders for the National Day holiday in August and nearly 70 percent of its fleet was booked a week before the holiday.

At last, more than 80 percent of its cars across the country were rented for the holiday and in some cities, the rate reached as high as 90 percent.

According to the company, a lot of customers preferred to rent a SUV for their trips because it offers a comfortable driving experience and can cope with various road situations.

And large MPVs like the Buick GL8 are a popular choice as well for the whole family to go out, it said.

In addition to serving local customers who do not have their own cars, the rental agencies have a growing client base of travelers from other cities.

Rong, the IT engineer said his next driving tour destination is the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

But it is too far away and time-consuming to drive all the way there, so he will fly and then rent a car there for a more extensive tour, he said.

Li Fangfang contributed to this story


More tourists driving themselves

Private vehicles pack a parking lot at Dongjiang Lake in Hunan province during the National Day holiday. Driving tours are becoming increasingly popular with visitors, who prefer the freedom and flexibility it offers. Zi Xing / for China Daily

(China Daily 10/14/2013 page18)