* Travel sharing, with its higher flexibility and lower expense, is gaining popularity among Chinese youths, and has also become a potent driving force for the growth of China's tourism sector.
* The new fad takes lifestyle like-mindedness and mutual respect to bring people together both physically and mentally.
* It is essential to be well-prepared by making plans and specifying requirements beforehand to avoid the risks of fraud and evasion of responsibility.
BEIJING, Nov. 3 (Xinhua) -- Shortly after the new semester began in September, Zhang Li (pseudonym), a freshman at Nanjing University in east China, founded a "travel sharing" group online that marked the first step of his long journey with new travel partners.
Zhang traveled with three freshmen from other majors of the same university in Jiangsu Province to Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the northwest during the National Day and Mid-Autumn Festival holiday. The 5-day trip only cost them no more than 2,500 yuan (about 341.73 U.S. dollars) each.
The experiences of Zhang represent a new model of traveling amid China's sharing economy that has seen the emerging of shared bicycles, shared power banks, and shared umbrellas, to name a few. This new fad derives from the eagerness of Chinese youths seeking like-minded travel companions with less expense and more exciting travel experiences.
"Those with cars provide transportation, those with experience offer travel tips, all aimed at completing a trip with minimal costs," said Zhang. He noted that travel sharing is also an efficient way to build friendship.
This photo taken on Oct. 4, 2023 shows vehicles for self-driving tours and an open-air market along a scenic coastal highway in Wenchang, south China's Hainan Province. (Xinhua/Pu Xiaoxu)
During the eight-day holiday that ended on Oct. 6, the Chinese travel market has been buzzing with rising tour demand. Data from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism shows that there were 826 million domestic tourists during this period, generating a tourism revenue of 753.43 billion yuan, up 129.5 percent year on year.
Travel sharing, with its higher flexibility and lower expense, is gaining popularity among Chinese tourists, especially among young people, and has also become a potent driving force for the growth of the country's tourism sector.
Ma Yuanhai, director of the planning and dispatch business of a travel agency in northwest China's Qinghai Province, said his company has received about 13,000 group tourists this year, accounting for 65 percent of the company's total.
The company organized these travelers, mostly aged from 22 to 45, into groups based on their preferences, typically forming small groups of four to eight people with itineraries lasting six to eight days, with dynamic adjustments based on the travelers' needs.
Compared to big ones, small travel groups generally mean better services and experiences, especially in summer, the peak season for Qinghai Lake tourism, according to Ma.
A small travel group has less worry about transportation, food, and accommodation, and since many scenic spots in Qinghai are located far apart, travelers need to spend a longer time on the road, thus traveling together helps young people feel it's much more intriguing, Ma added.
People visit a scenic spot in Menyuan Hui Autonomous County, Haibei Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in northwest China's Qinghai Province July 3, 2022. (Xinhua/Zhang Long)
While the very essence of travel sharing is to travel with strangers for lower expense and unique gratification, it takes lifestyle like-mindedness and mutual respect to bring people together both physically and mentally.
During the process of selecting travel companions, several key factors are often considered, such as dietary preferences, spending habits, and lifestyle, and some even take a look at personality test results via the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
The uncertainties of travel sharing evoke a sense of thrill among young people, blending both excitement and apprehension. The enthusiasts of travel sharing describe the experience as "opening blind boxes."
Compared to traveling with family and friends, the connections between travel companions are more fragile. Cancellation of travel plans and removal of contacts can occur even just before departure sometimes.
Xu Tingting, a 41-year-old manager of several clothing stores in Nanjing, had more experiences of travel sharing. "It dates back to 2017 when I first formed a travel group on a tour to Cambodia. I found two partners with whom I can share the fee of a chartered car," Xu recalled.
But things did not go smoothly every time, and risks of fraud and evasion of responsibility pose threats to travel security. Xu believes that it is essential to be well-prepared by making plans and specifying requirements beforehand.
It is also advisable to exchange contact information and engage in more conversations to see if the personalities of the group members and their daily routines are compatible, according to Xu.
This photo taken in September 2019 shows Xu Tingting (1st R) posing for a photo with her travel companions in Spain. (Xinhua)
The first destination via travel sharing of Zhang Zhixuan, a 23-year-old resident in the southwestern city of Chengdu, was Indonesia.
She posted a "looking for travel companions" message on life-sharing platform Xiaohongshu and received numerous responses. After careful selection, she decided to travel with three other girls from Xi'an, northwestern Shaanxi Province.
"We exchanged identity card photos and reached a consensus to avoid money transactions. The first step for travel sharing is to prevent being scammed," she said.
Regardless of the potential risks, travel sharing is still a promising way of traveling, Xu said, adding that travel sharing mode not only helps her lower the cost but also allows her to set out a more flexible and customized schedule. "It helps dispel the sense of loneliness. At least you got someone that would help you record the journey."
For Yang Mingyu, who tends to sign up for outdoor activities in suburban areas of Beijing via WeChat public accounts, the travel sharing meets her demand for networking.
"Same city-based travel companions are generally young working professionals. Through these types of trips, they can expand their social circles. I really enjoy this way of making friends, and I've noticed it's become more popular this year," said Yang.
Travel sharing represents a trend of diversification of tourism, which reflects the consumers' growing demands for cultural and tourism experiences, said Liu Li, director of the tourism management department at Jilin International Studies University.
"The sharing economy starts to prosper in the tourism sector," Liu said. "I believe that in the coming years, there will be broader adoption for travel sharing, continually driving the transformation and upgrade of the cultural and tourism market." ■
(Video reporters: Li Linhai, Geng Huihuang, Lin Kai, Chen Shengwei; video editors: Yu Jiaming and Zhang Yuhong)