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  • Published: 31 March 2023

The benefits of tourism for rural community development

  • Yung-Lun Liu 1 ,
  • Jui-Te Chiang 2 &
  • Pen-Fa Ko 2  

Humanities and Social Sciences Communications volume  10 , Article number:  137 ( 2023 ) Cite this article

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  • Business and management
  • Development studies

While the main benefits of rural tourism have been studied extensively, most of these studies have focused on the development of sustainable rural tourism. The role of tourism contributions to rural community development remains unexplored. Little is known about what tourism contribution dimensions are available for policy-makers and how these dimensions affect rural tourism contributions. Without a clear picture and indication of what benefits rural tourism can provide for rural communities, policy-makers might not invest limited resources in such projects. The objectives of this study are threefold. First, we outline a rural tourism contribution model that policy-makers can use to support tourism-based rural community development. Second, we address several methodological limitations that undermine current sustainability model development and recommend feasible methodological solutions. Third, we propose a six-step theoretical procedure as a guideline for constructing a valid contribution model. We find four primary attributes of rural tourism contributions to rural community development; economic, sociocultural, environmental, and leisure and educational, and 32 subattributes. Ultimately, we confirm that economic benefits are the most significant contribution. Our findings have several practical and methodological implications and could be used as policy-making guidelines for rural community development.

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Introduction.

In many countries, rural areas are less developed than urban areas. They are often perceived as having many problems, such as low productivity, low education, and low income. Other issues include population shifts from rural to urban areas, low economic growth, declining employment opportunities, the loss of farms, impacts on historical and cultural heritage, sharp demographic changes, and low quality of life. These issues indicate that maintaining agricultural activities without change might create deeper social problems in rural regions. Li et al. ( 2019 ) analyzed why some rural areas decline while others do not. They emphasized that it is necessary to improve rural communities’ resilience by developing new tourism activities in response to potential urban demands. In addition, to overcome the inevitability of rural decline, Markey et al. ( 2008 ) pointed out that reversing rural recession requires investment orientation and policy support reform, for example, regarding tourism. Therefore, adopting rural tourism as an alternative development approach has become a preferred strategy in efforts to balance economic, social, cultural, and environmental regeneration.

Why should rural regions devote themselves to tourism-based development? What benefits can rural tourism bring to a rural community, particularly during and after the COVID pandemic? Without a clear picture and answers to these questions, policy-makers might not invest limited resources in such projects. Understanding the contributions of rural tourism to rural community development is critical for helping government and community planners realize whether rural tourism development is beneficial. Policy-makers are aware that reducing rural vulnerability and enhancing rural resilience is a necessary but challenging task; therefore, it is important to consider the equilibrium between rural development and potential negative impacts. For example, economic growth may improve the quality of life and enhance the well-being index. However, it may worsen income inequality, increase the demand for green landscapes, and intensify environmental pollution, and these changes may impede natural preservation in rural regions and make local residents’ lives more stressful. This might lead policy-makers to question whether they should support tourism-based rural development. Thus, the provision of specific information on the contributions of rural tourism is crucial for policy-makers.

Recently, most research has focused on rural sustainable tourism development (Asmelash and Kumar, 2019 ; Polukhina et al., 2021 ), and few studies have considered the contributions of rural tourism. Sustainability refers to the ability of a destination to maintain production over time in the face of long-term constraints and pressures (Altieri et al., 2018 ). In this study, we focus on rural tourism contributions, meaning what rural tourism contributes or does to help produce something or make it better or more successful. More specifically, we focus on rural tourism’s contributions, not its sustainability, as these goals and directions differ. Today, rural tourism has responded to the new demand trends of short-term tourists, directly providing visitors with unique services and opportunities to contact other business channels. The impact on the countryside is multifaceted, but many potential factors have not been explored (Arroyo et al., 2013 ; Tew and Barbieri, 2012 ). For example, the demand for remote nature-based destinations has increased due to the fear of COVID-19 infection, the perceived risk of crowding, and a desire for low tourist density. Juschten and Hössinger ( 2020 ) showed that the impact of COVID-19 led to a surge in demand for natural parks, forests, and rural areas. Vaishar and Šťastná ( 2022 ) demonstrated that the countryside is gaining more domestic tourists due to natural, gastronomic, and local attractions. Thus, they contended that the COVID-19 pandemic created rural tourism opportunities.

Following this change in tourism demand, rural regions are no longer associated merely with agricultural commodity production. Instead, they are seen as fruitful locations for stimulating new socioeconomic activities and mitigating public mental health issues (Kabadayi et al., 2020 ). Despite such new opportunities in rural areas, there is still a lack of research that provides policy-makers with information about tourism development in rural communities (Petrovi’c et al., 2018 ; Vaishar and Šťastná, 2022 ). Although there are many novel benefits that tourism can bring to rural communities, these have not been considered in the rural community development literature. For example, Ram et al. ( 2022 ) showed that the presence of people with mental health issues, such as nonclinical depression, is negatively correlated with domestic tourism, such as rural tourism. Yang et al. ( 2021 ) found that the contribution of rural tourism to employment is significant; they indicated that the proportion of nonagricultural jobs had increased by 99.57%, and tourism in rural communities had become the leading industry at their research site in China, with a value ten times higher than that of agricultural output. Therefore, rural tourism is vital in counteracting public mental health issues and can potentially advance regional resilience, identity, and well-being (López-Sanz et al., 2021 ).

Since the government plays a critical role in rural tourism development, providing valuable insights, perspectives, and recommendations to policy-makers to foster sustainable policies and practices in rural destinations is essential (Liu et al., 2020 ). Despite the variables developed over time to address particular aspects of rural tourism development, there is still a lack of specific variables and an overall measurement framework for understanding the contributions of rural tourism. Therefore, more evidence is needed to understand how rural tourism influences rural communities from various structural perspectives and to prompt policy-makers to accept rural tourism as an effective development policy or strategy for rural community development. In this paper, we aim to fill this gap.

The remainder of this paper is organized as follows: the section “Literature review” presents the literature review. Our methodology is described in the section “Methodology”, and our results are presented in the section “Results”. Our discussion in the section “Discussion/implications” places our findings in perspective by describing their theoretical and practical implications, and we provide concluding remarks in the section “Conclusion”.

Literature review

The role of rural tourism.

The UNWTO ( 2021 ) defined rural tourism as a type of tourism in which a visitor’s experience is related to a wide range of products generally linked to nature-based activity, agriculture, rural lifestyle/culture, angling, and sightseeing. Rural tourism has been used as a valid developmental strategy in rural areas in many developed and developing countries. This developmental strategy aims to enable a rural community to grow while preserving its traditional culture (Kaptan et al., 2020 ). In rural areas, ongoing encounters and interactions between humans and nature occur, as well as mutual transformations. These phenomena take place across a wide range of practices that are spatially and temporally bound, including agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, farm tourism, cultural heritage preservation, and country life (Hegarty and Przezbórska, 2005 ). To date, rural tourism in many places has become an important new element of the regional rural economy; it is increasing in importance as both a strategic sector and a way to boost the development of rural regions (Polukhina et al., 2021 ). Urban visitors’ demand for short-term leisure activities has increased because of the COVID-19 pandemic (Slater, 2020 ). Furthermore, as tourists shifted their preferences from exotic to local rural tourism amid COVID-19, Marques et al. ( 2022 ) suggested that this trend is a new opportunity that should be seized, as rural development no longer relies on agriculture alone. Instead, other practices, such as rural tourism, have become opportunities for rural areas. Ironically, urbanization has both caused severe problems in rural areas and stimulated rural tourism development as an alternative means of economic revitalization (Lewis and Delisle, 2004 ). Rural tourism provides many unique events and activities that people who live in urban areas are interested in, such as agricultural festivals, crafts, historical buildings, natural preservation, nostalgia, cuisine, and opportunities for family togetherness and relaxation (Christou, 2020 ; Getz, 2008 ). As rural tourism provides visitors from urban areas with various kinds of psychological, educational, social, esthetic, and physical satisfaction, it has brought unprecedented numbers of tourists to rural communities, stimulated economic growth, improved the viability of these communities, and enhanced their living standards (Nicholson and Pearce, 2001 ). For example, rural tourism practitioners have obtained significant economic effects, including more income, more direct sales, better profit margins, and more opportunities to sell agricultural products or craft items (Everett and Slocum, 2013 ). Local residents can participate in the development of rural tourism, and it does not necessarily depend on external resources. Hence, it provides entrepreneurial opportunities (Lee et al., 2006 ). From an environmental perspective, rural tourism is rooted in a contemporary theoretical shift from cherishing local agricultural resources to restoring the balance between people and ecosystems. Thus, rural land is preserved, natural landscapes are maintained, and green consumerism drives farmers to focus on organic products, green chemistry, and value-added products, such as land ethics (Higham and Ritchie, 2001 ). Therefore, the potential contributions of rural tourism are significant and profound (Marques, 2006 ; Phillip et al., 2010 ). Understanding its contributions to rural community development could encourage greater policy-maker investment and resident support (Yang et al., 2010 ).

Contributions of rural tourism to rural community development

Maintaining active local communities while preventing the depopulation and degradation of rural areas requires a holistic approach and processes that support sustainability. What can rural tourism contribute to rural development? In the literature, rural tourism has been shown to bring benefits such as stimulating economic growth (Oh, 2005 ), strengthening rural and regional economies (Lankford, 1994 ), alleviating poverty (Zhao et al., 2007 ), and improving living standards in local communities (Uysal et al., 2016 ). In addition to these economic contributions, what other elements have not been identified and discussed (Su et al., 2020 )? To answer these questions, additional evidence is a prerequisite. Thus, this study examines the following four aspects. (1) The economic perspective: The clustering of activities offered by rural tourism stimulates cooperation and partnerships between local communities and serves as a vehicle for creating various economic benefits. For example, rural tourism improves employment opportunities and stability, local residents’ income, investment, entrepreneurial opportunities, agricultural production value-added, capital formation, economic resilience, business viability, and local tax revenue (Atun et al., 2019 ; Cheng and Zhang, 2020 ; Choi and Sirakaya, 2006 ; Chong and Balasingam, 2019 ; Cunha et al., 2020 ). (2) The sociocultural perspective: Rural tourism no longer refers solely to the benefits of agricultural production; through economic improvement, it represents a greater diversity of activities. It is important to take advantage of the novel social and cultural alternatives offered by rural tourism, which contribute to the countryside. For example, rural tourism can be a vehicle for introducing farmers to potential new markets through more interactions with consumers and other value chain members. Under such circumstances, the sociocultural benefits of rural tourism are multifaceted. These include improved rural area depopulation prevention (López-Sanz et al., 2021 ), cultural and heritage preservation, and enhanced social stability compared to farms that do not engage in the tourism business (Ma et al., 2021 ; Yang et al., 2021 ). Additional benefits are improved quality of life; revitalization of local crafts, customs, and cultures; restoration of historical buildings and community identities; and increased opportunities for social contact and exchange, which enhance community visibility, pride, and cultural integrity (Kelliher et al., 2018 ; López-Sanz et al., 2021 ; Ryu et al., 2020 ; Silva and Leal, 2015 ). (3) The environmental perspective: Many farms in rural areas have been rendered noncompetitive due to a shortage of labor, poor managerial skills, and a lack of financial support (Coria and Calfucura, 2012 ). Although there can be immense pressure to maintain a farm in a family and to continue using land for agriculture, these problems could cause families to sell or abandon their farms or lands (Tew and Barbieri, 2012 ). In addition, unless new income pours into rural areas, farm owners cannot preserve their land and its natural aspects; thus, they tend to allow their land to become derelict or sell it. In the improved economic conditions after farms diversify into rural tourism, rural communities have more money to provide environmental care for their natural scenic areas, pastoral resources, forests, wetlands, biodiversity, pesticide mitigation, and unique landscapes (Theodori, 2001 ; Vail and Hultkrantz, 2000 ). Ultimately, the entire image of a rural community is affected; the community is imbued with vitality, and farms that participate in rural tourism instill more togetherness among families and rural communities. In this study, the environmental benefits induced by rural tourism led to improved natural environmental conservation, biodiversity, environmental awareness, infrastructure, green chemistry, unspoiled land, and family land (Di and Laura, 2021 ; Lane, 1994 ; Ryu et al., 2020 ; Yang et al., 2021 ). (4) The leisure and educational perspective: Rural tourism is a diverse strategy associated with an ongoing flow of development models that commercialize a wide range of farming practices for residents and visitors. Rural territories often present a rich set of unique resources that, if well managed, allow multiple appealing, authentic, and memorable tourist experiences. Tourists frequently comment that the rural tourism experience positively contrasts with the stress and other negatively perceived conditions of daily urban life. This is reflected in opposing, compelling images of home and a visited rural destination (Kastenholz et al., 2012 ). In other words, tourists’ positive experiences result from the attractions and activities of rural tourism destinations that may be deemed sensorially, symbolically, or socially opposed to urban life (Kastenholz et al. 2018 ). These experiences are associated with the “search for authenticity” in the context of the tension between the nostalgic images of an idealized past and the demands of stressful modern times. Although visitors search for the psychological fulfillment of hedonic, self-actualization, challenge, accomplishment, exploration, and discovery goals, some authors have uncovered the effects of rural tourism in a different context. For example, Otto and Ritchie ( 1996 ) revealed that the quality of a rural tourism service provides a tourist experience in four dimensions—hedonic, peace of mind, involvement, and recognition. Quadri-Felitti and Fiore ( 2013 ) identified the relevant impact of education, particularly esthetics, versus memory on satisfaction in wine tourism. At present, an increasing number of people and families are seeking esthetic places for relaxation and family reunions, particularly amid COVID-19. Rural tourism possesses such functions; it remains a novel phenomenon for visitors who live in urban areas and provides leisure and educational benefits when visitors to a rural site contemplate the landscape or participate in an agricultural process for leisure purposes (WTO, 2020 ). Tourists can obtain leisure and educational benefits, including ecological knowledge, information about green consumerism, leisure and recreational opportunities, health and food security, reduced mental health issues, and nostalgia nurturing (Alford and Jones, 2020 ; Ambelu et al., 2018 ; Christou, 2020 ; Lane, 1994 ; Li et al., 2021 ). These four perspectives possess a potential synergy, and their effects could strengthen the relationship between rural families and rural areas and stimulate new regional resilience. Therefore, rural tourism should be understood as an enabler of rural community development that will eventually attract policy-makers and stakeholders to invest more money in developing or advancing it.

Methodology

The literature on rural tourism provides no generally accepted method for measuring its contributions or sustainability intensity. Although many statistical methods are available, several limitations remain, particularly in terms of the item generation stage and common method bias (CMB). For example, Marzo-Navar et al. ( 2015 ) used the mean and SD values to obtain their items. However, the use of the mean has been criticized because it is susceptible to extreme values or outliers. In addition, they did not examine omitted variables and CMB. Asmelash and Kumar ( 2019 ) used the Delphi method with a mean value for deleting items. Although they asked experts to suggest the inclusion of any missed variables, they did not discuss these results. Moreover, they did not assess CMB. Islam et al. ( 2021 ) used a sixteen-step process to formulate sustainability indicators but did not consider omitted variables, a source of endogeneity bias. They also did not designate a priority for each indicator. Although a methodologically sound systematic review is commonly used, little attention has been given to reporting interexpert reliability when multiple experts are used to making decisions at various points in the screening and data extraction stages (Belur et al., 2021 ). Due to the limitations of the current methods for assessing sustainable tourism development, we aim to provide new methodological insights. Specifically, we suggest a six-stage procedure, as shown in Fig. 1 .

figure 1

Steps required in developing the model for analysis after obtaining the data.

Many sources of data collection can be used, including literature reviews, inferences about the theoretical definition of the construct, previous theoretical and empirical research on the focal construct, advice from experts in the field, interviews, and focus groups. In this study, the first step was to retrieve data from a critical literature review. The second step was the assessment of omitted variables to produce items that fully captured all essential aspects of the focal construct domain. In this case, researchers must not omit a necessary measure or fail to include all of the critical dimensions of the construct. In addition, the stimuli of CMB, for example, double-barreled items, items containing ambiguous or unfamiliar terms, and items with a complicated syntax, should be simplified and made specific and concise. That is, researchers should delete items contaminated by CMB. The third step was the examination of construct-irrelevant variance to retain the variances relevant to the construct of interest and minimize the extent to which the items tapped concepts outside the focal construct domain. Variances irrelevant to the targeted construct should be deleted. The fourth step was to examine intergroup consistency to ensure that there was no outlier impact underlying the ratings. The fifth step was to examine interexpert reliability to ensure rating conformity. Finally, we prioritized the importance of each variable with the fuzzy analytic hierarchy process (AHP), which is a multicriteria decision-making approach. All methods used in this study are expert-based approaches.

Selection of experts

Because this study explores the contributions of rural tourism to rural community development, it involves phenomena in the postdevelopment stage; therefore, a few characteristics are essential for determining the choice of experts. The elements used to identify the experts in this study were (1) the number of experts, (2) expertise, (3) knowledge, (4) diversity, (5) years working in this field, and 5) commitment to participation. Regarding the number of experts, Murphy-Black et al. ( 1998 ) suggested that the more participants there are, the better, as a higher number reduces the effects of expert attrition and rater bias. Taylor-Powell ( 2002 ) pointed out that the number of participants in an expert-based study depends not only on the purpose of the research but also on the diversity of the target population. Okoli and Pawlowski ( 2004 ) recommended a target number of 10–18 experts for such a purpose. Therefore, we recruited a group of 18 experts based on their stated interest in the topic and asked them to comment on our rationale concerning the rating priorities among the items. We asked them to express a degree of agreement or disagreement with each item we provided. We adopted a heterogeneous and anonymous arrangement to ensure that rater bias did not affect this study. The 18 experts had different backgrounds, which might have made it easier for them to reach a consensus objectively. We divided the eighteen experts into three subgroups: (1) at least six top managers from rural tourism businesses, all of whom had been in the rural tourism business for over 10 years; (2) at least six academics who taught subjects related to tourism at three different universities in Taiwan; and (3) at least six government officials involved in rural development issues in Taiwan.

Generating items to represent the construct

Step 1: data collection.

Data collection provides evidence for investigation and reflects the construct of interest. While there is a need to know what rural tourism contributes, previous studies have provided no evidence for policy-makers to establish a rural community strategy; thus, it is essential to use a second source to achieve this aim. We used a literature review for specific topics; the data we used were based on the findings being presented in papers on rural tourism indexed in the SSCI (Social Sciences Citation Index) and SCIE (Science Citation Index Expanded). In this study, we intended to explore the role of rural tourism and its contributions to rural development. Therefore, we explored the secondary literature on the state of the questions of rural development, sustainable development, sustainability indicators, regional resilience, farm tourism, rural tourism, COVID-19, tourist preferences, and ecotourism using terms such as land ethics, ecology, biodiversity, green consumerism, environmentalism, green chemistry, community identity, community integration, community visibility, and development goals in an ad hoc review of previous studies via Google Scholar. Based on the outcomes of this first data collection step, we generated thirty-three subattributes and classified them into four domains.

Step 2: Examine the face validity of omitted variables and CMB

Face validity is defined as assessing whether a measurement scale or questionnaire includes all the necessary items (Dempsey and Dempsey, 1992 ). Based on the first step, we generated data subattributes from our literature review. However, there might have been other valuable attributes or subattributes that were not considered or excluded. Therefore, our purposes for examining face validity were twofold. First, we assessed the omitted variables, defined as the occurrence of crucial aspects or facets that were omitted (Messick, 1995 ). These comprise a threat to construct validity that, if ignored by researchers, might result in unreliable findings. In other words, face validity is used to distinguish whether the researchers have adequately captured the full dimensions of the construct of interest. If not, the evaluation instrument or model is deficient. However, the authors found that most rural tourism studies have not assessed the issue of omitted variables (An and Alarcon, 2020 ; Lin, 2022 ). Second, we mitigated the CMB effect. In a self-report survey, it is necessary to provide a questionnaire without CMB to the targeted respondents, as CMB affects respondent comprehension. Therefore, we assessed item characteristic effects, item context effects, and question response process effects. These three effects are related to the respondents’ understanding, retrieval, mood, affectivity, motivation, judgment, response selection, and response reporting (Podsakoff et al., 2003 ). Specifically, items containing flaws from these three groups in a questionnaire can seriously influence an empirical investigation and potentially result in misleading conclusions. We assessed face validity by asking all the experts to scrutinize the content items that we collected from the literature review and the questionnaire that we drafted. The experts could then add any attribute or subattribute they thought was essential that had been omitted. They could also revise the questionnaire if CMB were embedded. We added the new attributes or subattributes identified by the experts to those collected from the literature review.

Step 3: Examine interexpert consensus for construct-irrelevant variances

After examining face validity, we needed to rule out items irrelevant to the construct of interest; otherwise, the findings would be invalid. We examined the interexpert consensus to achieve this aim. The purpose was to estimate the experts’ ratings of each item. In other words, interexpert consensus assesses the extent to which experts make the same ratings (Kozlowski and Hattrup, 1992 ; Northcote et al., 2008 ). In prior studies, descriptive statistics have often been used to capture the variability among individual characteristics, responses, or contributions to the subject group (Landeta, 2006 ; Roberson et al., 2007 ). Many expert-based studies have applied descriptive statistics to determine consensus and quantify its degree (Paraskevas and Saunders, 2012 ; Stewart et al., 2016 ). Two main groups of descriptive statistics, central tendencies (mode, mean, and median) and level of dispersion (standard deviation, interquartile, and coefficient of variation), are commonly used when determining consensus (Mukherjee et al., 2015 ). Choosing the cutoff point of interexpert consensus was critical because we used it as a yardstick for item retention and its value can also be altered by a number on the Likert scale (Förster and von der Gracht, 2014 ). In the case of a 5-point Likert scale, the coefficient of variation (CV) is used to measure interexpert consensus. Hence, CV ≤ 0.3 indicated high consensus (Zinn et al., 2001 ). In addition, based on the feedback obtained from the expert panel, we used standard deviation (SD) as another measurement to assess the variation in our population. Henning and Jordaan ( 2016 ) indicate that SD ≤ 1 represents a high level of consensus, meaning that it can act as a guideline for cutoff points. In addition, following Vergani et al. ( 2022 ), we used the percentage agreement (% AGR) to examine interexpert consensus. If the responses reached ≧ 70% 4 and 5 in the case of a 5-point Likert scale, it indicated that the item had interexpert consensus; thus, we could retain it. Moreover, to avoid the impact of outliers, we used the median instead of the mean as another measurement. Items had a high consensus if their median value was ≥4.00 (Rice, 2009 ). Considering these points, we adopted % AGR, median, SD, and CV to examine interexpert consensus.

Step 4: Examine intergroup consistency

In this expert-based study, the sample size was small. Any rater bias could have caused inconsistency among the subgroups of experts; therefore, we needed to examine the effect of rater bias on intergroup consistency. When the intergroup ratings showed substantially different distributions, the aggregated data were groundless. Dajani et al. ( 1979 ) remarked that interexpert consensus is meaningless if the consistency of responses in a study is not reached, as it means that any rater bias could distort the median, SD, or CV. Most studies have used one-way ANOVA to determine whether there is a significant difference between the expected and observed frequency in three or more categories. However, this method is based on large sample size and normal distribution. In the case of expert-based studies, the expert sample size is small, and the assessment distribution tends to be skewed. Thus, we used the nonparametric test instead of one-way ANOVA for consistency measurement (Potvin and Roff, 1993 ). We used the Kruskal‒Wallis test (K–W) to test the intergroup consistency among the three subgroups of experts. The purpose of the K–W test is to determine whether there are significant differences among three or more subgroups regarding the ratings of the domains (Huck, 2004 ). The judgment criteria in the K-W test depended on the level of significance, and we set the significance level at p  < 0.05 (Love and Irani, 2004 ), with no significant differences among groups set at p  > 0.05 (Loftus et al., 2000 ; Rice, 2009 ). We used SPSS to conduct the K–W test to assess intergroup consistency in this study.

Step 5: Examine interexpert reliability

Interexpert reliability, on the one hand, is usually defined as the proportion of systematic variance to the total variance in ratings (James et al., 1984 ). On the other hand, interexpert reliability estimation is not concerned with the exact or absolute value of ratings. Rather, it measures the relative ordering or ranking of rated objects. Thus, interexpert reliability estimation concerns the consistency of ratings (Tinsley and Weiss, 1975 ). If an expert-based study did not achieve interexpert reliability, we could not trust its analysis (Singletary, 1994 ). Thus, we examined interexpert reliability in this expert-based study. Many methods are available in the literature for measuring interexpert reliability, but there seems to be little consensus on a standard method. We used Kendall’s W to assess the reliability among the experts for each sample group (Goetz et al., 1994 ) because it was available for any sample size or ordinal number. If W was 1, all the experts were unanimous, and each had assigned the same order to the list of objects or concerns. As Spector et al. ( 2002 ) and Schilling ( 2002 ) suggested, reliabilities well above the recommended value of .70 indicate sufficient internal reliability. In this study, there was a strong consensus when W  > 0.7. W  > 0.5 represented a moderate consensus; and W  < 0.3 indicated weak interexpert agreement (Schmidt et al., 2001 ). To measure Kendall’s W , we used SPSS 23 to assess interexpert reliability.

Step 6: Examine the fuzzy analytic hierarchy process

After examining face validity, interexpert consensus, intergroup consistency, and interexpert reliability, we found that the aggregated items were relevant, authentic, and reliable in relation to the construct of interest. To provide policy-makers with a clear direction regarding which contributions are more or less important, we scored each attribute and subattribute using a multicriteria decision-making technique. Fuzzy AHP is a well-known decision-making tool for modeling unstructured problems. It enables decision-makers to model a complex issue in a hierarchical structure that indicates the relationships between the goal, criteria, and subcriteria on the basis of scores (Park and Yoon, 2011 ). The fuzzy AHP method tolerates vagueness and ambiguity (Mikhailov and Tsvetinov, 2004 ). In other words, fuzzy AHP can capture a human’s appraisal of ambiguity when considering complex, multicriteria decision-making problems (Erensal et al., 2006 ). In this study, we used Power Choice 2.5 software to run fuzzy AHP, determine weights, and develop the impact structure of rural tourism on sustainable rural development.

Face validity

To determine whether we had omitted variables, we asked all 18 experts to scrutinize our list of four attributes and 33 subattributes for omitted variables and determine whether the questionnaire contained any underlying CMB. We explained the meaning of omitted variables, the stimuli of CMB, and the two purposes of examining face validity to all the experts. In their feedback, the eighteen experts added one item as an omitted variable: business viability. The experts suggested no revisions to the questionnaire we had drafted. These results indicated that one omitted variable was revealed and that our prepared questionnaire was clear, straightforward, and understandable. The initially pooled 34 subattributes represented the construct of interest, and all questionnaires used for measurement were defendable in terms of CMB. The biasing effects of method variance did not exist, indicating that the threat of CMB was minor.

Interexpert consensus

In this step, we rejected any items irrelevant to the construct of interest. Consensus measurement played an essential role in aggregating the experts’ judgments. This study measured the AGR, median, SD, and CV. Two items, strategic alliance (AGR = 50%) and carbon neutrality (AGR = 56%) were rated < 70%, and we rejected them accordingly. These results are shown in Table 1 . The AGR, median, SD, and CV values were all greater than the cutoff points, thus indicating that the majority of experts in this study consistently recognized high values and reached a consensus for the rest of the 32 subattributes. Consequently, the four attributes and 32 subattributes remained and were initially identified as determinants for further analysis.

Intergroup consistency and interexpert reliability

In this study, with scores based on a 5-point Likert scale, we conducted the K–W test to assess intergroup differences for each subattribute. Based on the outcomes, the K–W test yielded significant results for all 32 subattributes; all three groups of experts reached consistency at p  > 0.05. This result indicated that no outlier or extreme value underlay the ratings, and therefore, intergroup consistency was reached. Finally, we measured interexpert reliability with Kendall’s W . The economic perspective was W  = 0.73, the sociocultural perspective was W  = 0.71, the environmental perspective was W  = 0.71, and the leisure and educational perspective was W  = 0.72. These four groups of W were all ≧ 0.7, indicating high reliability for the ranking order and convergence judged by all subgroup experts. These results are shown in Table 2 .

The hierarchical framework

The results of this study indicate that rural tourism contributions to rural community development comprise four attributes and thirty-two subattributes. The economic perspective encompasses nine subattributes and is weighted at w  = 0.387. In addition, rural tourism has long been considered a possible means of sociocultural development and regeneration of rural areas, particularly those affected by the decline in traditional rural

activities, agricultural festivals, and historical buildings. According to the desired benefits, the sociocultural perspective encompasses nine subattributes and is weighted at w  = 0.183. Moreover, as rural tourism can develop on farms and locally, its contribution to maintaining and enhancing environmental regeneration and protection is significant. Therefore, an environmental perspective can determine rural tourism’s impact on pursuing environmental objectives. Our results indicate that the environmental perspective encompasses seven subattributes and that its weight is w  = 0.237. Furthermore, the leisure and educational perspective indicates the attractiveness of rural tourism from visitors’ viewpoint and their perception of a destination’s value and contributions. These results show that this perspective encompasses seven subattributes and is weighted at w  = 0.193. This specific contribution model demonstrates a 3-level hierarchical structure, as shown in Fig. 2 . The scores for each criterion could indicate each attribute’s importance and explain the priority order of the groups. Briefly, the critical sequence of each measure in the model at Level 2 is as follows: economic perspective > environmental perspective > leisure and educational perspective > sociocultural perspective. Since scoring and ranking were provided by 18 experts from three different backgrounds and calculated using fuzzy AHP, our rural tourism contribution model is established. It can provide policy-makers with information on the long-term benefits and advantages following the completion of excellent community development in rural areas.

figure 2

The priority index of each attribute and sub-attribute.

Discussion/Implications

In the era of sustainable rural development, it is vital to consider the role of rural tourism and how research in this area shapes access to knowledge on rural community development. This study provides four findings based on the increasing tendency of policy-makers to use such information to shape their policy-making priorities. It first shows that the demand for rural tourism has soared, particularly during COVID-19. Second, it lists four significant perspectives regarding the specific contributions of rural tourism to rural community development and delineates how these four perspectives affect rural tourism development. Our findings are consistent with those of prior studies. For example, geography has been particularly important in the rural or peripheral tourism literature (Carson, 2018 ). In terms of the local geographical context, two contributions could be made by rural tourism. The first stems from the environmental perspective. When a rural community develops rural tourism, environmental protection awareness is increased, and the responsible utilization of natural resources is promoted. This finding aligns with Lee and Jan ( 2019 ). The second stems from the leisure and educational perspective. The geographical context of a rural community, which provides tourists with geographical uniqueness, advances naturally calming, sensory-rich, and emotion-generating experiences for tourists. These results suggest that rural tourism will likely positively impact tourists’ experience. This finding is consistent with Kastenhoz et al. ( 2020 ). Third, although expert-based approaches have considerable benefits in developing and testing underlying phenomena, evidence derived from interexpert consensus, intergroup consistency, and interexpert reliability has been sparse. This study provides such evidence. Fourth, this research shows that rural tourism makes four main contributions, economic, sociocultural, environmental, leisure, and educational, to rural community development. Our results show four key indicators at Level 2. The economic perspective is strongly regarded as the most important indicator, followed by the environmental perspective, leisure and educational perspective, and sociocultural perspective, which is weighted as the least important. The secondary determinants of contributions have 32 subindicators at Level 3: each was identified and assigned a different weight. These results imply that the attributes or subattributes with high weights have more essential roles in understanding the contributions of rural tourism to rural community development. Policy-makers can use these 32 subindicators to formulate rural tourism development policies or strategies.

This study offers the following five practical implications for policymakers and rural communities:

First, we argue that developing rural tourism within a rural community is an excellent strategy for revitalization and countering the effects of urbanization, depopulation, deforestation, and unemployment.

Second, our analytical results indicate that rural tourism’s postdevelopment contribution is significant from the economic, sociocultural, environmental, leisure, and educational perspectives, which is consistent with Lee and Jan ( 2019 ).

Third, there is an excellent opportunity to build or invest more in rural tourism during COVID-19, not only because of the functions of rural tourism but also because of its timing. Many prior studies have echoed this recommendation. For example, Yang et al. ( 2021 ) defined rural tourism as the leading industry in rural areas, offering an output value ten times higher than that of agriculture in China. In addition, rural tourism has become more attractive to urban tourists amid COVID-19. Vaishar and Šťastná ( 2022 ) suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic created a strong demand for rural tourism, which can mitigate threats to public mental health, such as anxiety, depression, loneliness, isolation, and insomnia. Marques et al. ( 2022 ) showed that tourists’ preference for tourism in rural areas increased substantially during COVID-19.

Fourth, the contributions of this study to policy development are substantial. The more focused rural tourism in rural areas is, the more effective revitalization becomes. This finding highlights the importance of such features in developing rural tourism to enhance rural community development from multiple perspectives. This finding echoes Zawadka et al. ( 2022 ); i.e., policy-makers should develop rural tourism to provide tourists with a safe and relaxed environment and should not ignore the value of this model for rural tourism.

Fifth, our developed model could drive emerging policy issues from a supporting perspective and provide policy-makers with a more comprehensive overview of the development of the rural tourism sector, thus enabling them to create better policies and programs as needed. For example, amid COVID-19, rural tourism created a safe environment for tourists, mainly by reducing their fears of contamination (Dennis et al., 2021 ). This novel contribution that rural tourism destinations can provide to residents and visitors from other places should be considered and built into any rural community development policy.

This study also has the following four methodological implications for researchers:

First, it addresses methodological limitations that still impede tourism sustainability model development. Specifically, we suggest a six-stage procedure as the guideline; it is imperative that rural tourism researchers or model developers follow this procedure. If they do not, their findings tend to be flawed.

Second, to ensure that collected data are without extraneous interference or differences via subgroups of experts, the assessment of intergroup consistency with the K–W test instead of one-way ANOVA is proposed, especially in small samples and distribution-free studies.

Third, providing interexpert reliability evidence within expert-based research is critical; we used Kendall’s W to assess the reliability among experts for each sample group because it applies to any sample size and ordinal number.

Finally, we recommend using fuzzy AHP to establish a model with appropriate indicators for decision-making or selection. This study offers novel methodological insights by estimating a theoretically grounded and empirically validated rural tourism contribution model.

There are two limitations to this study. First, we examine all subattributes by interexpert consensus to delete construct-irrelevant variances that might receive criticism for their lack of statistical rigor. Future studies can use other rigorous methods, such as AD M( j ) or rWG ( j ) , interexpert agreement indices to assess and eliminate construct-irrelevant variances. Second, we recommend maximizing rural tourism contributions to rural community development by using the general population as a sample to identify any differences. More specifically, we recommend using Cronbach’s alpha, confirmatory factor analysis (CFA), and structural equation modeling (SEM) to test the overall reliability and validity of the data and results. It is also necessary to provide results for goodness-of-fit measures—e.g., the goodness-of-fit index (GFI), adjusted goodness-of-fit index (AGFI), comparative fit index (CFI), normed fit index (NFI), Tucker–Lewis Index (TLI), standardized root mean square residual (SRMR), or root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA).

Numerous empirical studies have illustrated how rural tourism can positively and negatively affect the contexts in rural areas where it is present. This study reveals the positive contributions of rural tourism to rural community development. The findings show that using rural tourism as a revitalization strategy is beneficial to nonurban communities in terms of their economic, sociocultural, environmental, and leisure and educational development. The contribution from the economic perspective is particularly important. These findings suggest that national, regional, and local governments or community developers should make tourism a strategic pillar in their policies for rural development and implement tourism-related development projects to gain 32 benefits, as indicated in Fig. 2 . More importantly, rural tourism was advocated and proved effective for tourists and residents to reduce anxiety, depression, or insomnia during the COVID-19 pandemic. With this emerging contribution, rural tourism is becoming more critical to tourists from urban areas and residents involved in rural community development. With this model, policy-makers should not hesitate to develop or invest more in rural communities to create additional tourism-based activities and facilities. As they could simultaneously advance rural community development and public mental health, policy-makers should include these activities among their regional resilience considerations and treat them as enablers of sustainable rural development. We conclude that amid COVID-19, developing rural tourism is an excellent strategy for promoting rural community development and an excellent alternative that could counteract the negative impacts of urbanization and provide stakeholders with more positive interests. The proposed rural tourism contribution model also suggests an unfolding research plan.

Data availability

The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Liu, YL., Chiang, JT. & Ko, PF. The benefits of tourism for rural community development. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 10 , 137 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-023-01610-4

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How was rural tourism developed in China? Examining the impact of China’s evolving rural tourism policies

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  • Yao Zhu   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-1046-4162 1 ,
  • Shousheng Chai 1 ,
  • Jieqi Chen 2 &
  • Ian Phau 3  

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This study examines the impact of China’s evolving rural tourism policies on the advancement of rural tourism within the nation. The analysis spans the period from 2006 to 2022 and encompasses several crucial aspects: The entities accountable for policy formulation, frequently utilized keywords, and the establishment of an analytical framework termed “policy instrument-policy target”. The findings revealed that China's rural tourism policies derive influence from a multitude of departments, highlighting a polycentric approach. Leading contributors include the State Council, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, as well as other policy-formulating bodies, which have gradually attained heightened levels of coordination. Furthermore, the prevalent keywords prevalent in China's rural tourism policies have undergone evolution, initially focusing on rural infrastructure development, rural services, leisure, and rural culture. Notably, incentive-based strategies and capacity-building tools hold significant importance among the frequently employed approaches. The deployed policy instruments have highlighted adaptability, effectively catering to the diverse stages of rural tourism development. Aligned with China's quintet of targets for rural revitalization, the primary objective in advancing rural tourism remains the cultivation of thriving businesses and overall prosperity. It is found that aspects such as social etiquette, effective governance, and civility have progressively gained prominence in the evolutionary trajectory of rural tourism offering valuable insights into the development of rural tourism in China.

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Acknowledgements

This study was supported by National Social Science Fund Project [grant numbers 20BGL160]; and a grant funded by China Scholarship Council (Grant No. CSC202306330092), awarded to Yao Zhu.

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Zhu, Y., Chai, S., Chen, J. et al. How was rural tourism developed in China? Examining the impact of China’s evolving rural tourism policies. Environ Dev Sustain (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10668-023-03850-5

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Rural tourism helps Chinese villages embrace prosperity

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BEIJING -- Rural tourism in China is becoming an increasingly important industry in the country's fight against poverty, an official from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism said Wednesday.

The central budget invested 6.5 billion yuan (around $991 million) in 656 infrastructure projects to boost rural tourism in poor areas in recent years, said Shan Gangxin, an official with the ministry's resource development department.

The ministry has also been deepening cooperation with banks over financial assistance to the industry, with the banks issuing nearly 70 billion yuan in loans, Shan added.

Amid efforts to promote the industry's development, the government has announced a list of 1,000 key villages with prosperous rural tourism, with 225 of them being poverty-stricken, Shan said, noting that the move has helped the poor villages nurture a number of quality rural tourism brands.

"A total of 300 new tourism routes have also been launched this year," Shan added.

Moreover, the government has set up five training centers for fighting poverty by developing rural tourism and trained more than 8,000 people.

Due to COVID-19, such training has gone online in 2020. More than 650,000 people have taken the online courses so far, figures from the ministry show.

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Implications of Rural Tourism in China On the Environment

Implications of Rural Tourism in China On the Environment

In 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced a rural revitalisation strategy during the 19th CPC National Congress and affirmed the strategy as the leading agenda for government work on agriculture, rural ideas and rural residents. The Chinese central government considered rural tourism to be one of the most important actions to revitalise rural areas and to improve villagers’ quality of life. While rural tourism creates job opportunities and narrows the development gap between urban and rural areas in China, it poses challenges to the rural environment and the uniqueness of its culture.

What is Rural Tourism?

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) defines rural tourism as “a type of tourism activity in which the visitor’s experience is related to a wide range of products generally linked to nature-based activities, agriculture, rural lifestyle/ culture, angling and sightseeing.” These activities take place “in non-urban (rural) areas with the following characteristics: i) low population density, ii) landscape and land-use dominated by agriculture and forestry and iii) traditional social structure and lifestyle.”

During trips in the rural areas, tourists participate in activities, lifestyles and traditions of rural communities . Common activities for tourists include boat trips, workshops in cooking and handicraft, local tours in villages and homestays with a local family.

In the past years, China has undergone rapid development under the government’s strategic plan and ambition to promote rural tourism. In 2018, China released a three-year action plan to promote and upgrade the development of rural tourism. The Chinese government encouraged local governments to improve service standards such as accommodation and transportation, and to encourage local community participation in rural tourism. In 2019, rural areas in China received 3.2 billion tourists in total , contributing over 850 billion yuan to the tourism sector.

In 2020, at a forum on the development of rural tourism in China, Zeng Yande , an official with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said that rural tourism is expected to become a major industry of economy in two to three years. In the same year, China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism issued a list of 680 key villages for promoting rural tourism, with the aims to implement rural vitalisation and to boost the further development of rural tourism . The rural revitalisation strategy, proposed in 2017, set the overall goal of building rural areas with business opportunities, pleasant living environments and effective governance.

On the one hand, rural tourism has improved the lives of many in China’s rural areas. First, it has improved the rural infrastructure such as wireless networks and waste collection points . Second, it has created job opportunities and has increased villagers’ income. For example, rural tourism in the Shimen Shanzhuang village in east China’s Shandong province creates jobs for more than 860 people each year . The village receives over 400 000 tourists each year, with a total revenue of 4 million yuan. Additionally, rural tourism in Shanglin county, a county of China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, has helped to boost the local economy with the special karst landscape.

You might also like: EU Looks to Clamp Down on Air, Water Pollution Under Green Deal

On the other hand, rural tourism, without a good coordination and sustainability plan, may also pose negative impacts to the rural areas. 

Research from in 2020 has shown that the water quality has significantly deteriorated in the Erhai Lake Basin due to land use change along with the boom of rural tourism since 2005 in the area. Also, commercial success from rural tourism in the famous historic old town Lijiang has come with environmental damage and cultural degradation . The ancient waterways have become contaminated with sewage and the cobbled streets transformed into a red-light district of nightlife. Moreover, residents in Chongdu Valley have complained that their area has become too urbanised to be considered a rural community . It now has a karaoke store, a movie theatre and fast-food restaurants. Tourism development has become a challenge for preserving the authentic rural environment and landscape.

What is Being Done?

In order to mitigate the negative impacts of rural tourism and to promote a sustainable development approach, the Chinese central government released an important guideline on promoting sustainable development of rural tourism in 2018. The guideline affirmed five development principles, including the need for local governments to promote green and quality development, and to adapt to local conditions, including climate and cultural heritage.

While rural tourism could lift people out of poverty and boost economic growth, it is important for the Chinese governments especially at the local levels to take a sustainable development approach. Rural tourism should not be developed at the expense of the environment and the cultural uniqueness of the rural areas.

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Exploring the motivations for rural tourism in China during the COVID-19: The existence of a single motivation

Songting zhang.

1 School of History, Culture and Tourism, Fuyang Normal University, Fuyang, Anhui Province, China

2 Yuexiu Institute of Hospitality Administration, Zhejiang Yuexiu University, Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, China

3 Department of Tourism, Lanzhou Vocational and Technical College, Lanzhou, Gansu Province, China

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All relevant data are within the manuscript.

The COVID-19 epidemic had an appropriate impact on tourists’ trip psychology and their subsequent behavior in participating in rural tourism activities. The purpose of this paper is to explore the types of motivations Chinese tourists have for participating in rural tourism in the context of COVID-19, and to comparatively analyze the similarities and differences in motivations for rural tourism during the epidemic and in normal times. An interpretive paradigm qualitative data collection method was used: semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions. Respondents were 21 tourists, who were selected through purposive and snowball sampling. Through content analysis, we found that rural tourism motivations during the epidemic included both diversified and singular motivations. The pull effect of rural destinations is related to distance and ease of realization. For rural areas in close proximity, a single motivation is sufficient to drive tourists. In addition, we found that there was no "altruistic motivation" for rural tourism during the COVID-19 period, but "altruistic feelings" for the preservation of ancient villages were generated during rural tourism. Finally, we discuss the theoretical and practical significance of this study and make suggestions for future research. The study explains tourists’ companionship preferences, activity choices, and affective changes, and provides a basis for the operation and advertising strategies of rural destinations to attract tourists and promote their sustainable development.

Introduction

In early 2020, the COVID 19 outbreak and the global pandemic had a significant impact on tourism, leading to significant changes in mobility, social behavior, consumption patterns and leisure [ 1 ]. With improved pandemic prevention and control capabilities and widespread vaccination, China’s tourism industry, although it has come out of the bottom of the valley and urban micro-vacation and rural tourism are growing rapidly, still faces major uncertainties and challenges. It is therefore crucial to understand how pandemics affect tourist behavior and decision-making processes [ 2 , 3 ] in order to lead the recovery of Chinese tourism. This study explores an initial step to understand the psychology and motivation of tourists’ trips during the COVID-19 years.

National restrictions triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic affect tourists’ outdoor recreation behaviors and may have a profound psychological impact on tourists’ thinking, feelings, and emotions, thus altering the tourists’ tourism decision-making process. Tourists’ travel decisions can be influenced by subjective evaluations and destination-related information [ 4 ]. In addition, work styles with more free time, such as online work, provide supportive conditions for people to travel. After the epidemic was effectively controlled, rural tourism around cities recovered rapidly by virtue of the advantages of low density, proximity to nature, and short distances [ 5 ] ( Fig 1 ). Since 2022, rural tourism has recovered 92% compared to the same period in 2019, making it one of the tourism categories with the strongest recovery momentum. Anhui Province, located in central China, is a traditional agricultural province with rich agricultural and rural resources [ 6 ]. The region is close to the economically developed and densely populated Yangtze River Delta region, with a large consumption capacity for rural tourism, and during the epidemic, rural tourism in Anhui Province showed explosive growth.

An external file that holds a picture, illustration, etc.
Object name is pone.0294610.g001.jpg

(A) The blue bar represents the scale of rural tourists. (B) The gray line represents the growth rate. Source: Adapted from China Tourism Research Institute, Smart Research Consulting (2021-11-23) , https://www.chyxx.com/industry/202111/986974.html .

During the epidemic period, using Anhui Province as a case study, exploring the motivation of rural tourism is conducive to discovering people’s special needs, companion preferences, and psychological changes in the special period, and to further promote the development of rural tourism and then lead to the overall recovery of tourism. This study adopts the qualitative research method of semi-structured interviews and focus groups, aiming to comprehensively discover and deeply understand the motivation of rural tourism. The structure of this paper is as follows: first, a brief review of rural tourism, motivation theories and research on the impact of disasters on tourists’ motivation was presented, and the research questions of this study were put forward. Next, the choice of methodology and the data collection process were explained. Then, the results of data analysis were shown in the findings section. Finally, the results were discussed in detail and the implications and limitations of the study are pointed out.

Literature review

Rural tourism and development.

The term "rural tourism" in English literature mainly includes "rural tourism", "farm tourism" and "village tourism" [ 7 ]. Currently, the definition of rural tourism remains inconsistent between developed and developing countries. In general, the connotation of rural tourism generally includes four key components: location, sustainable development, community characteristics, and experience [ 8 ].

The benefits of rural tourism as an engine of economic development and a contributor to the quality of life of rural residents are often emphasized, and it is one of the fastest growing types of tourism in recent decades [ 9 , 10 ]. Rural tourism can meet the psychological needs of people to enjoy the natural scenery, has the advantages of low tourism cost, short time consumption, low traffic density, and high safety, and is valued by society as an important industry to promote rural economic development [ 11 ]. Based on the perspective of rural tourists, it was found that due to the restorative and therapeutic power of rural nature, it can improve physical and mental health, and can satisfy the needs of people escaping from urbanization and industrialization, looking for natural scenery, and enjoying the countryside customs and folklore [ 12 , 13 ].

Motivation theory and rural tourism demand

The earliest research on motivation can be traced back to 1932, when the British scholar Tolman, Hall, and Bretnall (1932) proposed that motivation includes intrinsic motivation driven by underlying emotions and extrinsic motivation attracted by cognitive level [ 14 ]. The study of tourism motivation began in the 1950s, and tourism motivation is the intrinsic motivation that drives tourists to produce tourism behavior, which is one of the important elements of consumer behavior research and tourism research since decades [ 15 ]. Currently, the more influential theories of travel motivation include Maslow’s 5-stage theory on motivation [ 16 ], Dann’s “Push-Pull” motivation Theory [ 17 ], Crompton’s Vacation Motivation [ 18 ], Iso-Ahola’s model of the social psychology of tourism [ 19 ], and Sharpley’s “Internal-External” Motivation Drive Theory [ 20 ].

Dann (1977) proposed a "push-pull" theory of tourism motivation. He argued that tourists’ motivation to travel consists of push and pull, and any intrinsic factor that can motivate travel can be regarded as push motivation, while those factors that can attract people to travel, such as destination attributes, can be regarded as pull motivation [ 21 ]. This theory is the classic theory of motivation, easy to understand, and has been verified and supported by domestic and international empirical studies over the years. Pesonen, Komppula, Kronenberg, and Peters (2011) applied “push-pull” motivation theory to two different rural destinations and found significant differences in push-pull motivation between the two regions by comparing them, with visitors driven by different variables apparently searching for different destination attributes [ 22 ].

Rural tourism motivation is a complex psychological structure of tourists in the whole process of rural tourism, and its research is mainly conducted based on theories related to tourism motivation in combination with the type of rural tourism and market segmentation of tourists [ 23 ]. Park and Yoon (2009) concluded that Korean rural tourists can be categorized into four groups: family reunion seekers, passive tourists, want-everything seekers, and learning and excitement seekers [ 24 ]. Rid, Ezeuduji, and Pröbstl-Haider (2014) categorized rural tourists in The Gambia into: heritage and nature seekers, multiple experience seekers, multi-experience and beach seekers and sun and beach seekers [ 25 ].

Tourists’ desire to escape the stress of the city is the main motivation for them to choose to travel to the countryside [ 11 , 24 , 26 ]. Visiting relatives and friends is also one of the social motivations, which is related to the rapid development of urbanization: a large number of rural people have moved to cities, but their blood ties and geographical ties with the countryside have not been broken, and tourism has become a bond to maintain interpersonal relations [ 27 ]. There are usually multiple motivations to promote rural tourism [ 24 ].

The impact of crisis events on tourism demand

Crisis events such as terrorist attacks, crime and financial crises all have an impact on tourism. As long as terrorist attacks occur, tourism demand will continue to decrease, and tourism will eventually come to a standstill, no matter how severe the terrorist activity is [ 28 ]. If tourists fail to anticipate financial crises or are insensitive to them, no precautionary measures will be taken and tourism demand will not decline, as was the case in 2001 when the tourism industry in Northern Cyprus was not affected by the financial crisis [ 29 ]. In the context of the financial crisis, the development of activities such as festival tourism and business trips would have contributed to the growth of immediate tourist demand and the realization of an increase in the number of tourists. It has been noted that the impact of crisis events on the demand for tourism is not as great as expected. When choosing a destination, tourists usually avoid terrorist locations and seek places where the political situation is stable to ensure security [ 30 ].

Affected by natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, etc., tourism is limited [ 31 – 33 ]. For destinations devastated by natural disasters, the most striking feature is generally a decrease in tourist arrivals [ 34 – 36 ]. Tourists generally prefer to travel with their close family or friends after a natural disaster [ 37 ], and their perception of risk varies according to socio-demographic characteristics such as age, gender, and education [ 38 ]. In addition, tourists’ familiarity with the destination also influences their perception of risk, which in turn affects their travel needs and decisions.

Studies analyzing the impact of the 2003 SARS outbreak in China on tourist behavior have found considerable similarities to the current pandemic because of the nature of the virus and the nature of the restrictions imposed. During an outbreak, most people are likely to travel with people they know, including family and relatives, and companionship preferences will change somewhat [ 39 ]. Activities with less human contact and demand for nature and ecotourism will be more popular. Tourists are more likely to consider health and safety when traveling, and there are differences in the perceived impact of SARS on travel intentions, behaviors, and patterns among different demographic characteristics, with healthcare workers and relatives being more conservative about the virus. Others such as Ebola, avian flu and pandemic influenza show similar effects [ 40 ]. After the occurrence of COVID-19, which brought local or regional restrictions, there were some changes in the motivation of rural tourists, who considered rural tourism to be outdoors, safer, and the rural environment combining nature, cuisine, and culture as a good place to visit during the epidemic [ 41 ].

Research gaps

Early studies of COVID-19 focused on investigating the effects of risk perception on behavior and responses to tourism restrictions, social costs, and tourism recovery strategies. In studies of tourists’ decision-making behavior, empirical studies of variable relationships were conducted using traditional variables such as attitudes and motivations in combination with risk perceptions and participation intentions brought about by COVID-19. These studies rarely provide a grounded view of what is considered from the tourists’ perspective, and cannot fully portray a complete picture of the strategies developed under the influence of social systems and individual factors.

In order to get the reasons for the popularity of rural tourism during COVID-19 and to explore a complete and comprehensive picture of tourists’ individual needs and motivations, this study captures first-hand information from tourists through interviews and focus group discussions to obtain the reasons and motivations for tourists’ choice of rural tourism during COVID-19. In other words, this study aims to find answers to the following research questions: -What motivates tourists to participate in rural travel during the current COVID-19 pandemic? -How do tourists differ from the normative context in terms of rural travel motivation in the extraordinary context of COVID-19?

Methodology

Since the main aim of this study was to gain a rich and in-depth understanding of the motivations of rural tourists, rather than to determine causal relationships between variables, the interpretive paradigm of qualitative research was used. Scholars believe that qualitative research paradigm can explain behavioral process more fully [ 42 , 43 ], compared with quantitative research methods, qualitative research paradigm is more able to describe and explain in detail the types of rural tourism motivation. Prior to the main study, researchers conducted a half-month pilot study to test the validity of the interview guides and to ensure that they adequately collected the data needed to answer the research questions. The main study was conducted over a three-month period from July to October 2022.

Data collection

Respondents were drawn from both purposive and snowball sampling, and 21 respondents participated in the study: 15 were tourists nearing the end of their rural tourism activities, and the other six were rural tourism enthusiasts (having participated in at least one rural tourism activity per year for the last three years). The main study included two methods of data collection: semi-structured interviews and focus groups. During the study period, the outbreaks were uninterruptedly present in different locations, so the collection methods included both online and offline methods.

Data saturation should be an explicit goal when determining the sample size [ 44 ]. The judgment and experience of the researcher in evaluating the quality of the information collected determines the sample size [ 45 ]. Therefore, during the data collection process, the number of informants reaches the research needs when new categories or topics no longer emerge from the data, at which point the data is saturated [ 46 ]. Failure to achieve data saturation affects the quality of ongoing research and hinders the validity of content [ 47 ]. Therefore, in this study, the researcher continued to collect data until no new information was available, that is, until data saturation was reached. As a result, it was ultimately determined that data saturation had been reached for 21 respondents.

For respondents, see Table 1 Full demographic details of respondents and information about interviews, 1–6 participated in the pilot study and all 1–21 participated in the main study.

Gender: M = Male; F = Female

All interviewees were interviewed independently

Nos.3,6,19,20,21 interviews were conducted online via Tencent Conference.

Nos.1-6 are research respondents from the pilot study.

Nos.7-21 are research respondents from the main study.

Nos.4,5,12,16 respondents were participants in the focus group interviews, which took place on October 16, 2022 on the online Tencent meeting platform and lasted one hour and 35 minutes. (The researcher had been studying in Korea since September 20, 2022)

Interviews and focus group discussions were audio-recorded with the consent of the interviewees. Since both the researcher and the respondents were Chinese, the researcher was able to accurately determine what the respondents meant based on the situation; even if the respondents partially answered the questions in dialect or slang. After the transcription was completed, the researcher emailed the text to the respondent for confirmation to determine accuracy.

Data analysis

This study utilized the grounded theory to qualitatively analyze the data through three steps of open coding, spindle coding and selective coding, and the theoretical saturation test to ensure the validity of the study. According to the proportion of one-third, this study did two independent coding of the interviews separately, without affecting each other. First, the interview transcripts were studied and analyzed individually without affecting each other, and sentences closely related to the study content were selected for conceptualization, and the concepts were classified and further categorized. Finally, the respective codes were compared one by one, identifying two independent codes, codes with the same and different code content, using the same code content, and reading and comparing the different codes for in-depth reflection. Comparisons are made on the basis of a large number of papers and in this process, concepts that occur less than twice are excluded from categorization.

Open coding to extract concepts and categories

Open coding is the process of breaking down, comparing, conceptualizing, and categorizing data collected at the beginning of a study, that is, by breaking up large amounts of data, assigning concepts to them, and then reassembling them in new ways so that they can be manipulated according to certain principles [ 48 ]. Its purpose is to discover the same or similar types from the collected primary data, and at the same time name the types in order to determine the concepts and dimensions of the types. Open coding consists of 3 steps: (1) conceptualization, extracting the contents from the original comments, breaking them into independent sentences, and extracting coding elements from these sentences, which in turn leads to the transformation of generalized language to refined language and the formation of preliminary concepts; (2) concept categorization, optimizing, analyzing, and filtering the concepts, aggregating concepts in the same category of genera, and analyzing the connections between words to form concept clusters belonging to the same category; (3) categorization, further abstracting and naming the concept clusters. We utilized Nvivo 14.0 to conduct verbatim reading, coding and labeling the collected interview data verbatim without any researcher’s preconceptions and biases, to generate initial concepts and discover conceptual categories from the raw data. The results of open coding are shown in Table 2 The results of open coding. In this paper, open coding was utilized to obtain 20 initial categories with a total of 112 nodes, of which the top ten with high frequency were Leisure and relaxation, friends outdoor reunion, family fun and parent-child education, implicitly of the aboriginal people, purchase of agricultural products, rural specialty Lodging, agricultural activities experience, rural recreational environments and outdoor spaces, specialty agricultural product, as a hot spot.

Axial coding

Open coding of text, line by line and sentence by sentence, is a process of identifying and developing concepts and their characteristics and dimensions. These steps include naming and categorizing similar events and situations, leading to the formation of categories, and ultimately to coding codes and lists of categories in Table 3 Axial coding codes and categories. In the open coding process of this study, a total of 20 original discourses and concepts were produced, on the basis of which 2 main categories were obtained through axial coding, namely "push" and "pull".

Selective coding

Selective coding continues with axial coding at a higher level of abstraction, the purpose of which is to identify the core categories around which other proposed categories can be merged and integrated to form a complete "story line". In this paper, we have used selective coding to obtain one core main category, namely rural tourists motivations ( Table 4 ).

After the COVID 19 pandemic was brought under some control, travel agencies, airlines and other travel intermediaries were out of business for a longer period of time, causing people to turn their attention to rural tourism in order to meet their outdoor needs, thus providing a valuable option for the rapid recovery of the rural tourism economy [ 49 ]. This study obtained the current motivations of rural tourists in China through semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions. These findings provide a basis for how COVID-19 influences tourists’ motivations, companionship preferences, and travel decisions.

Outdoor countryside meets people’s travel needs during COVID-19

In the study, it was found that the negative effects of crowding were amplified during the spread of pathogens, and people were more likely to choose the outdoor countryside for their tourism activities. Moreover, to reduce psychological discomfort, people wanted to replace other overnight trips with day trips and trips to nearby countryside. This finding complements the theory of substitution proposed by Iso-Ahola (1986) [ 50 ], as well as the study by Hall and Shelby (2000) [ 51 ]. In other words, neighboring rural destinations were perceived as safe and convenient places to go during the epidemic. Currently, the motives of rural tourism mainly involve psychological motives, physical motives, social motives, characteristic experience motives and other single motives such as investigating cooperative projects and helping children to finish their homework. The psychological motivation of leisure and relaxation was mentioned several times among the psychological motivations of rural travelers, and most respondents expressed the desire to escape from the city and get away from stress, and they usually traveled with family and friends, and these findings support the view that rural tourism is preferred for relaxation and enhancing parent-child relationship based on safety and cost in the previous study.

In this study, respondents frequently used terms like "escape" and "evasion" to describe their motivation for rural travel, indicating a desire to detach from the distractions of their everyday urban environments. This is because in recent years, the high cost of education and housing prices in China’s cities and the fierce competition in the workplace have made city dwellers live in a stressful atmosphere, and they choose to travel to the countryside, which is different from the city, to enjoy the tranquility and comfort of rural life and to obtain both physical and psychological relaxation, which is another way of labor reproduction.

During the interviews, many interviewees mentioned that being in a rural environment can "calm oneself", "purify the mind", and "self-reflect", which shows that in a heterogeneous environment such as a village, which is very different from an urban environment It can be seen that in the heterogeneous environment of the countryside, which is very different from the urban environment, people’s bodies are relaxed and at the same time their minds are changed, and they try to think about their lives and find their true selves. Travel needs belong to the higher level of Maslow’s five needs theory, and the satisfaction of the spiritual aspect of the journey is also a need above the physiological needs and security needs. The resulting spiritual motivation has driven the demand for improved self-cognition and deeper travel experiences for domestic travelers in recent years, which in turn has influenced changes on the supply side and promoted high-quality enhancement of rural tourism products.

This study found that few Chinese rural tourists cited volunteer tourism motivations such as contributing to the rural community, but more cited health, fitness, and retirement motivations. In the study of rural tourist motivations. Chinese rural tourists described their motivations based on personal needs, with few tourists citing the motivation of "contributing to the rural community". However, rural tourists in Africa, which is also a developing region, are motivated by the desire to contribute to the community while enjoying the natural environment of the countryside [ 52 ]. The researchers argue that this does not mean that the Chinese do not have an "altruistic mentality" because the Chinese perceive volunteer tourism destinations as those that are poor, backward, and in need of help in some way. With the recent development, the village appearance, farmers’ income and living standard of Anhui villages have been improved dramatically. The Anhui countryside in the advertisement is quiet and idyllic, and pleasant farm life, which are hardly tourist motives to contribute to the community and help the countryside, but are more likely to inspire tourists to desire for idyllic leisure life.

In comparison with foreign studies of rural tourism motivations, it was found that the health, fitness, and retirement motivations were mentioned several times in Chinese rural tourism motivations. It can be seen that people who have lived in cities for a long time see the rural environment as a natural and pollution-free natural environment. As China’s aging process accelerates, people with money and leisure begin to pursue a healthier lifestyle. They believe that the countryside is free of industrial pollution, with clean air and good water quality, and that organic food such as agricultural and sideline products are good for health. In many places, "reverse urbanization" has occurred, and many urbanites have their "second homes" in the countryside.

Single motivation can also drive rural tourism

In this study, a single rural tourism motivation was found to exist and be sufficient to drive rural tourism behavior. However, many scholars argue that rural tourism motivation is multidimensional and different tourists will have a structure of rural tourism motivation that does not pass [ 52 – 55 ]. Travel motivation is the driving force prior to the start of tourism activities, and the single motivations found in this study include visiting cooperative projects, helping children with practical assignments, buying scarce and special agricultural products, and chasing fashion—hitting the Netflix spots. The researcher believes there are two main reasons for this. First, the rural tourism place is distinctive and specialized in a certain area, for example: a village famous for mulberry fungus cultivation, a village with patriotic education features, and a specialty crop radish origin. On the other hand, the accessibility, proximity and convenience of rural tourism places make it possible for a single motive to be realized relatively quickly. This finding provides insights for rural tourism development: villages with large volumes and superior resource endowments can develop multiple rural tourism products to attract more tourists and satisfy their multidimensional tourism experiences; while villages with smaller volumes but distinctive characteristics can develop one rural tourism product to attract a targeted rural tourism market segment according to local conditions and focus.

In addition, during the study period, respondents were experiencing China’s strict "dynamic zero" epidemic prevention and control policy. During the containment period, people experienced anxiety during the containment period, compensatory travel during the post-closure period, and a stable period during normal times. In particular, during the post-closure compensatory period, respondents expressed the idea that "they had been holding it in for too long and just wanted to get some air", but due to China’s "no travel unless necessary" policy, respondents could only travel to the countryside around the city as a destination, which on the one hand However, due to China’s "no distant travel unless necessary" policy, respondents could only travel to rural areas around cities as destinations, which on the one hand meet the need for outdoor activities and relaxation, and on the other hand meet the requirements of epidemic prevention and control, avoiding the risk of long-distance infection. Therefore, the COVID-19 itself is not a motivation for tourism, but after the epidemic is sealed and controlled, it will give rise to some ideas such as "going out for a breath of fresh air" and "too depressing to escape", and these tourists want to get outdoors, and the countryside is a good place to do so. It can be found that due to the regional limitations of the epidemic and people’s concern about the spread of the virus, a safe, rural environment that combines nature, food and culture can satisfy and easily fulfill people’s tourism needs during the epidemic, which will also be a good opportunity for the development of global rural tourism.

Rural tourism motivation in the framework of the "push and pull" theory

At present, the motivations of rural tourism mainly involve psychological motivation, physical motivation, social motivation, characteristic experience motivation, and single motivation such as investigating cooperative projects and helping children to finish their homework. In the interview process, some interviewees could not clearly express their clear motivation, but only expressed that they could not go farther because of the epidemic policy and other restrictions, and they especially wanted to go outdoors, so they could only choose to go to the surrounding rural tourism places, that is, there was no special purpose during the special period, just to escape from the closed environment, and wanting to go outdoors to relax also became the rural tourism motivation. Dann’s "push-pull" motivation theory explains the motivation factors of tourists from both internal and external motivation [ 17 , 21 ], which is a classic theory in the field of motivation research that is easily understood and generally accepted by a large number of scholars, where the push is generated by the internal psychological factors of tourists, and the pull is generated by the attributes of the destination. Combining the "push-pull" motivation theory framework to sort out the motivation of rural tourism in this study, we found that the current "push factors" of rural tourism mainly include the psychological motivation of leisure and relaxation, nostalgia, self-reflection, and fashion pursuit, the social motivation of activities with friends and family, and the social motivation of health and fitness. The "pull factors" are mainly some rural experience motives, including the natural rural environment, the indigenous folk style, rural special food and accommodation, folk customs, activity experience, and the supply of special agricultural products ( Fig 2 ).

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Conclusion, limitations and future research

Chinese citizens showed a preference for nature, countryside, and cultural descriptions after the epidemic passed; they also preferred short trips after the epidemic passed [ 48 ]. Despite the recent finding of a sustained increase in outdoor rural tourism activities during COVID-19, few studies have explored the psychological responses of tourists during the epidemic and their demand for and behavioral decisions about rural outdoor activities. We sought to explore this gap through empirical research. The motivational factors for tourists’ participation in rural tourism identified in this study include not only the tourists’ own "push" factors but also the "pull" factors of rural tourism destinations, which supports Dann’s "push-pull" motivation theory [ 23 , 24 ].

First, we found that tourists’ motivation to participate in rural tourism activities restricted by COVID-19 threats and government regulations affects tourists’ behaviors in terms of activity choice, companionship preferences, and length of stay. This study impacts the existing literature in three ways. One of the first qualitative studies to conduct an in-depth analysis of tourists’ travel needs during the COVID-19 period, this study found that proximity, outdoor, and safe rural destinations are popular, which combines with people’s need for escapism and their need for safety. Secondly, we outside found the fact that a single motivation is enough to attract tourists to rural tourism destinations, a finding that inspires rural tourism destinations and their operators to create distinctive boutique products to attract demand through precise marketing while increasing awareness. The third significance of this study is academic: it implies that the motives found in this study can enrich the theoretical model of "push-pull" motives, and furthermore, the fact that single motives are widely present in rural tourism activities during the epidemic can be used to develop new theoretical models for future tourism.

Limitations

Among the rural tourists interviewed, most were from Anhui Province, and very few were from other provinces. Since Chinese people are more introverted or shy, and the research process was conducted in the context of the epidemic, some of the interviewees may have self-importance and social preference bias in the communication process compared to before the epidemic, and were not able to fully express their inner thoughts, and there does not seem to be an effective way to eliminate this bias. Therefore, in this study, both semi-structured interviews and focus group discussion was used in combination, and the technique was used as triangulation.

Currently, China has a "dynamic zero" policy for new infections, during which respondents experience a period of anxiety during home quarantine, a period of release and compensation during the initial period of release, and a period of recovery from normal life. During the data collection period, some of the respondents were in the initial release and compensation period of the release from isolation, and they overemphasized their desire to escape from their usual environment and get some fresh air, choosing the countryside around their residence because they could not go to other provinces and cities. During the researcher’s interview, on the one hand, he or she asked follow-up questions at the right time to get the respondents to say as much as possible, and on the other hand, he or she repeated the key elements described by the respondents in order to obtain affirmative responses from them.

Future research

In future studies, the knowledge of rural tourist psychological experience research can be further enriched by adding interviews with rural tourists with different demographic characteristics and types of consumption behavior, and adding corresponding interviews to categorize and study the tourism motivations of different categories of rural tourists.

The purpose sampling and snowball sampling techniques used in this study still yielded static cross-sectional data, and respondents expressed their willingness to revisit after their needs were met and they had a good rural tourism experience, but willingness should not necessarily guarantee actual behavior [ 56 ]. Later studies can further explore the fit between the subjective responses and behavioral characteristics of rural tourists and the actual behaviors they produce by comparing them over a relatively long study period through more rigorous sample tracking to identify the points of difference and analyze the reasons for them.

Funding Statement

Anhui Provincial Department of Education Excellent Young Talents Project: Research on the Influence Mechanism of Rural Tourists' Behavior in the Context of Epidemic Normalization (gxyq2022037); 2022 Project of "School-Enterprise Cooperation Practice Education Base" of Undergraduate Teaching Project of Fuyang Normal University(2022XQSJJD01); Fuyang Normal University-Fuyang City 2022 City-University Cooperation Science and Technology Special Project "Research on Cultural and Tourism Science and Technology Product Development Based on the Mechanism of Song Dynasty Cultural Evolution" (SXHZ202209); Online and offline hybrid first-class course "Introduction to Tourism" (2020HEYL12). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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rural tourism in china

Is China’s Rural Tourism Push Sustainable?

China’s rural development drive is at a crossroads. Over the past two decades, authorities at both the central and local levels have invested a huge quantity of resources into the “revitalization” of the countryside. Yet, the results in some cases have not met expectations, as newly built cottage industries have proved unsustainable and unable to meet local residents’ needs.

China launched several “rural revitalization” campaigns over the past decade to help rejuvenate its economically stagnant rural areas. Deeming traditional, small-scale agriculture inadequate for the demands of modern development, local officials nationwide partnered with outside enterprises and capital to reshape the economies of entire villages, often emphasizing a single, signature industry such as tourism.

Y Village — I am not identifying the place to protect the identity of my research participants — is an ordinary village in central China. In the mid-2010s, Y Village was selected as a pilot site for a major rural revitalization campaign, after which it received almost 60 million yuan (now $9.3 million) in funding from various government levels. Local officials chose to concentrate these resources on developing rural tourism resources, partnering with an outside enterprise to develop the village into an agritourism site and incentivizing farmers to invest in “agritainment” venues such as restaurants and the bed and breakfast-esque establishments known as nongjiale .

As part of this strategy, Y Village leased a large portion of village land to its private sector partner for 10 years and spent more than 30 million yuan on new facilities for tourists like a scenic road and a visitor center.

Over the next several years, however, the tourism project hemorrhaged money. Y Village hasn’t attracted many tourists, and those who have visited tended to be individual day-trippers from surrounding areas who rarely ate or stayed in the village. The businesses the government had pushed locals to set up struggled to stay afloat, and some farmers were forced to close up shop and either return to farming or else look for work in the city.

In addition to leasing farmland to outside companies long term, Y Village’s resources are increasingly skewed toward tourism projects. A river running through the village was selected to be the centerpiece of the local tourism industry, so now the county government operates the reservoir upstream with water rides and other recreational activities in mind. As less water is released, farmland irrigation has been seriously affected.

Y Village epitomizes some of the challenges China faces as it attempts to revitalize rural areas. Local governments have prioritized large-scale land management and developing large agricultural or industrial enterprises with the aim of concentrating and coordinating village resources to develop certain industries and achieve economies of scale. The potential payoff is immense: Once an industry reaches a certain size, it becomes easier for officials to lobby for more resources and investment from higher levels of government.

But as this strategy has been replicated across the country, villages run the risk of overlooking unique local conditions and needs.

The nationwide tourism development push offers many examples. Although villages large and small have tried to follow in the footsteps of a few early success stories and develop themselves into playgrounds for urbanites, only a few — those close to famous scenic spots or large cities — have realized a return on their investment. Meanwhile, the ubiquity of rural tourism spots has saturated the market. Local government officials I spoke to believe that one reason Y Village has struggled to attract visitors is because the surrounding countryside is full of almost identical tourism villages.

There is no need to hastily concentrate village resources or chase after colossal gains. Instead of discarding small-scale farming for instance, smallholder farms could be embraced as a source of stability and security for rural Chinese. Although China is rapidly urbanizing, it remains in a transitional phase, and large numbers of urban migrants continue to need footholds in their rural hometowns. This model has been crucial in helping China weather challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic or demographic aging by giving rural Chinese locked out of the urban social security system a much-needed fallback. If rural farmland is consolidated and leased out to companies for long periods, however, it will no longer be able to absorb excess labor.

Rather than chasing after large-scale transformations, rural development initiatives should focus on improving agricultural infrastructure to make farming more convenient and productive. For example, at the moment, the land owned by many farmers is fragmented and inefficiently farmed. If the government can integrate these fragmented plots, improve irrigation, and better maintain agricultural infrastructure, this will raise farming efficiency and improve farmers’ lives.

In short, the construction and development of China’s countryside needs to give greater weight to the interests of farmers rather than developers. Instead of replicating the centralized strategy of specialization and industrial development which leaves villages overly dependent on a single industry, it is more economically efficient to identify development paths that meet the needs of villagers and suit the local environment.

Translator: David Ball; editors: Cai Yiwen and Kilian O’Donnell.

(Header image: Villagers perform for tourists at a tea farm in Yichang, Hubei province, 2018. Zhang Guorong/People Visual)

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Burgeoning gardening economy revitalizes rural tourism in Sichuan

This aerial photo taken on April 9, 2023 shows tourists having fun around Liangshuituo station in Jianwei County, Leshan City, southwest China's Sichuan Province. (Xinhua/Jiang Hongjing)

About one hour's drive from the main venue of International Horticultural Exhibition 2024 Chengdu, villages in Leshan City of Sichuan Province, are reaping the benefits of the flourishing gardening industry to decorate the daily life of its residents, while revitalizing the local economy via eco-tourism.

Since its completion in April 2022, the rose garden in Jiang'an Flower Village, Mianzhu Township of Leshan, has attracted about 180,000 visitors.

"The daily maintenance, management, and supporting services of the rose garden have not only brought employment opportunities to the surrounding residents and increased their incomes by a total of over 200,000 yuan (about 28,170 U.S. dollars), but also turned the deserted land into an internet-famous site," said Cheng Xiaoying, who is in charge of the garden's operation.

Cheng also plans to build the rose garden into a research and learning base for nearby schools, where students can learn from Mother Nature directly through picking fruits and other activities instead of relying on textbooks.

In the rose garden, workers can be seen busy watering, deworming and fertilizing under the sun.

"I'm glad to see the influx of visitors to our rose garden every single day since it was opened. For a person at my age, it is not easy to find a job near your home that you really like," said Tong Guilan, a 47-year-old villager living in the nearby Mianzhupu Community.

Tong earns 120 yuan a day by working at the garden. "Now more than 20 villagers in our village have landed their job at their doorsteps just like me," she added.

In 2023, the per capita annual income of residents in Tong's community reached 43,200 yuan, an increase of 200 percent compared with 2016.

In another village of Leshan, Guanyin Village, local farmers are fertilizing and weeding in the jasmine fields, in the run-up to the jasmine harvest season at the end of this month.

"The local government has led us to develop jasmine planting and strongly supported us in terms of stabilizing flower prices, channeling the market, and improving industrial technologies," said Liu Zhengtian, a local farmer in Guanyin Village of Qingxi Township. Last year, Liu planted more than 6 mu (about 0.4 hectares) of jasmine flowers.

At present, Guanyin Village has more than 4,000 mu of jasmine, and Qingxi Township boasts more than 25,000 mu of jasmine. Qingxi jasmine planting area now ranks first in southwest China, with its annual output value of jasmine tea topping 224 million yuan.

Leshan has strived to develop its flower planting industry, from simple planting to the deep integration of primary, secondary and tertiary industries, making the local natural scenery become a leading industry sector and a cash cow for its farmers.

In late April, the International Horticultural Exhibition 2024 Chengdu opened in Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan Province. The expo's flourishing gardens will be on display from April 26 to Oct. 28.

"With the help of the expo, we hope to further promote our cultural tourism projects in combination with Leshan's popular tourist attractions, to attract more visitors and purchasers," said Zhu Wenhui, director of the neighborhood committee of Mianzhupu Community.

"We also want to invite more urbanites in Chengdu to travel to the countryside at weekends and make our village their 'backyard garden' so that they can feel the great changes of the rural areas and their cultures," Zhu added. ■

CHENGDU, May 18 (Xinhua) -- About one hour's drive from the main venue of International Horticultural Exhibition 2024 Chengdu, villages in Leshan City of Sichuan Province, are reaping the benefits of the flourishing gardening industry to decorate the daily life of its residents, while revitalizing the local economy via eco-tourism.

An aerial view of Xiaogucheng village

An aerial view of Xiaogucheng village Photo: Courtesy of the CPC Yuhang District Committee

Xiaogucheng villagers discuss daily affairs under a local iconic camphor tree. Photo: Courtesy of the CPC Yuhang District Committee

Xiaogucheng villagers discuss daily affairs under a local iconic camphor tree. Photo: Courtesy of the CPC Yuhang District Committee

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rural tourism in china

  • Heatwaves scorch north China, igniting cooling economy

With heatwaves sweeping some Chinese provinces and regions in recent days, many people have been making plans for summer vacations, often with an eye on cool spots in which to relax.

"This year, I plan to travel to northeast and northwest China, where there is not only cool weather, but also a lot of entertainment options," said Li Panxue, a resident in Beijing.

In order to meet the increasingly diverse and personalized demands of tourists, many popular summer destinations in China are actively exploring new methods, tapping resources such as beaches, forests, rivers and lakes, and seizing the new growth point of the summer cooling economy.

In northeast China's Jilin Province, the frozen Tianchi crater lake of the Changbai Mountain has just begun to melt, ushering in its most beautiful season.

Located at a high altitude, Changbai Mountain reserve has an average temperature of only 22 degrees Celsius in summer. The coolness has made Changbai Mountain a popular tourist spot in the summer months.

Changbai Mountain is the highest mountain system and an important ecological barrier in Northeast Asia. Tourists come to see the mysterious Tianchi crater lake, enjoy waterfalls and go rafting. The ecological environment of green mountains and clear waters ensures they linger as long as possible.

"It has almost kept its original appearance and is very popular among young people, who can immerse themselves in the natural oxygen bar and enjoy the natural beauty. The 3.1 km hike takes about two and a half hours," said Gong Xiaolei, head of the Julong Volcanic Stone Forest Scenic Spot of Changbai Mountain.

On Friday, the first Jilin Tourism Development Conference was held at the reserve, officially inaugurating the Changbaishan Global Geopark. The province has set a new tourism development goal of raising its total tourism revenue to 100 billion yuan (about 14.06 billion U.S. dollars) by 2027, with its tourism industry achieving a trillion-level goal.

The neighbouring Heilongjiang Province has also benefited from its ecological environment. In recent years, the province has developed travel routes involving forest health spas, leisure and summer vacations, and border sightseeing around its diverse ecological resources, such as large forests, wetlands, lakes and grasslands.

VARIOUS TOURISM PRODUCTS

A team of students from Beijing recently came to Changbai Mountain for a cycling camp. They took a seven-day cycling trip to enjoy the scenery, collecting plant specimens and doing woodwork, and visiting a forest farm, learning about the local culture in the process.

Zheng Wenqiang, the organizer of the activity, said that by expanding the different types of tourism, visitors can enrich their travel routes and experiences, discovering various aspects of the mountain.

Further south, Chongqing Municipality is known as one of China's "four ovens" -- cities known for their steamy summer temperatures. However, the municipality has come up with a clever solution for visitors, transforming its former air-raid shelters into summer getaway spots.

"It was cool walking into the cave, proving both a 'cyberpunk' feeling and an opportunity to learn about a very important piece of history," said Wang Juehe, a student from north China's Shanxi Province who has travelled with his parents to Chongqing.

There are over 1,600 former air-raid shelters in Chongqing, covering an area of around 1.1 million square meters. Large clusters of shelters have been transformed into bustling commercial venues, such as hot-pot restaurants, wine cellars, museums, bookstores and snack bars, attracting over 1 million tourists annually and providing employment for more than 100,000 people.

It is just one of many locations across the country that have developed tourism products designed to bring relief from the heat, resulting in a summer tourism boom.

Northwest China's Shaanxi Province recently released 23 summer rural leisure tour routes, combined with beautiful pastoral landscapes and regional folk culture. The city of Zhengzhou in central China's Henan Province has also launched water entertainment options to create a cooling experience for tourists.

The city of Guiyang, capital of southwest China's Guizhou Province, boasts relatively cool summer temperatures, due in part to its geography and elevation. Thanks to the cool air and roadside concerts, it has witnessed a 174-percent year-on-year increase in summer travel orders this year, according to data from online travel platform Ctrip.

A report released by the China Tourism Academy in 2023 revealed that the scale of China's summer tourism and related markets was between 1.2 trillion to 1.5 trillion yuan.

EXPANDING SUMMER CONSUMPTION

As temperature rises, sun-protection products have also taken up prominent positions in shopping malls and e-commerce platforms.

In the past, most consumers of such products were female, but now the proportion of male consumers is increasing year by year, said a Taobao shopkeeper. "Especially young people, men born after 2000, have a great demand for sun protection products," said the shopkeeper.

According to the research firm iResearch, the market size of sun-protective clothing and accessories in China reached 74.2 billion yuan in 2023, and is expected to reach 95.8 billion yuan in 2026.

Sun Zhe, associate professor at Jilin University's school of economics, said the summer consumption market has huge potential, with relevant enterprises providing consumers with a wealth of choices, adding that relevant departments should provide strong guarantees for the vigorous development of the summer economy. 

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Fresh Malaysian durians will make their way to China as trade deals signed during Premier Li’s visit

China’s premier received a red-carpet welcome as he arrived Tuesday in Malaysia, the last leg of a regional tour, to celebrate a half-century of diplomatic ties between the two nations. Li Qiang is the first Chinese premier to visit Malaysia since 2015. He flew in on an Air China jet from Australia and was received by Transport Minister Anthony Loke and other officials, the national Bernama news agency said. He then inspected a guard of honor before being taken to his hotel.

In this photo released by Malaysia's Department of Information, China's Premier Li Qiang, left, shakes hands with Malaysia Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim before their meeting in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Malaysia's Department of Information via AP)

In this photo released by Malaysia’s Department of Information, China’s Premier Li Qiang, left, shakes hands with Malaysia Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim before their meeting in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Malaysia’s Department of Information via AP)

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In this photo released by Malaysia’s Department of Information, China’s Premier Li Qiang, left, walks with Malaysia Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim as he arrives at Putrajaya, Malaysia, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Malaysia’s Department of Information via AP)

In this photo released by Malaysia’s Department of Information, China’s Premier Li Qiang, center left, meets with Malaysia Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, center right, in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Malaysia’s Department of Information via AP)

In this photo released by Malaysia’s Department of Information, China’s Premier Li Qiang, center, signs a guest book beside Malaysia Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, right, in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (Malaysia’s Department of Information via AP)

In this photo released by Malaysia’s Department of Information, China’s Premier Li Qiang waves as he arrives at Sepang International Airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Malaysia’s Department of Information via AP)

In this photo released by Malaysia’s Department of Information, China’s Premier Li Qiang, left, is greeted by Malaysia’s Minster of Transport, Anthony Loke, as he arrives at Sepang International Airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Malaysia’s Department of Information via AP)

In this photo released by Malaysia’s Department of Information, China’s Premier Li Qiang arrives at Sepang International Airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Malaysia’s Department of Information via AP)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Fresh Malaysian durians will soon make their way to China as the two countries signed a slew of trade and economic deals Wednesday during a visit by Premier Li Qiang to celebrate a half-century of diplomatic relations.

Li held private talks with Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in the government administrative capital of Putrajaya before they met with their delegations. The two leaders witnessed the signing of various pacts, including a new five-year deal for economic and trade cooperation that officials said would bolster links between industries in priority sectors like high-level manufacturing and the digital economy.

They also inked a protocol on measures that will allow Malaysia to export to China fresh durian, the spiky tropical fruit with a strong odor and known for its creamy pulp, Anwar’s office said.

Exporting fresh durians to China will open a new market for Malaysia, which began selling durian pulp and paste to China in 2011 and frozen durian whole fruits in 2018. Malaysia’s frozen durian export value to China has surged from 170 million ringgit ($36 million) in 2018 to nearly 1.2 billion ringgit ($255 million) last year, it said.

The sun sets over a liquefied natural gas power plant in Santa Clara, Batangas province, Philippines on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. The Philippines is seeing one of the world's biggest buildouts of natural gas infrastructure. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Li, the first Chinese premier to visit Malaysia since 2015, flew in for a three-day visit late Tuesday from Australia. Li, who was given a red carpet welcome, said upon his arrival that the two nations’ 50-year anniversary was a new starting point to deepen links and increase exchanges.

“China is ready to work with Malaysia,” Li said in a statement published by the national Bernama news agency.

Li, China’s No. 2 leader after President Xi Jinping, last week also became the first Chinese premier to visit New Zealand and then Australia in seven years.

While trade dominated the talks, the prickly issue of territorial claims in the South China Sea was also raised.

The two leaders agreed China and claimant countries in Southeast Asia should tackle the maritime dispute “independently and properly” through dialogue and cooperation, and via bilateral settlement, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.

No details were given but the statement came amid concerns that the sea row could escalate and put the U.S. and China in a larger conflict following a fresh confrontation this week between Manila and Beijing. The U.S. renewed a warning Tuesday that it is obligated to defend treaty ally Philippines, after Chinese forces seized two Philippine boats delivering food and supplies to a military outpost in a disputed shoa and injured several Filipino navy personnel.

Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan all dispute Beijing’s claims to almost the entire South China Sea. Malaysia’s government prefers the diplomatic channel and rarely criticizes Beijing, even though Chinese coast guard ships have sailed near Malaysia’s waters. This is partly to protect economic ties between the trade partners.

Other agreements signed aim to promote investment in the digital economy and green development, combat transnational crime, and boost housing and urban development, higher education, people-to-people exchanges in science and technology, tourism and cultural cooperation, Anwar’s office said.

Trade with China — Malaysia’s No. 1 trading partner since 2009 — made up 17% of Malaysia’s global trade, valued at $98.8 billion last year, Trade Minister Zafrul Aziz was quoted as saying by Bernama last week.

Anwar, who visited China twice last year, has sought to move closer to Beijing even while engaging the U.S. as a key ally. While speaking at a forum in Tokyo in May, Anwar stressed that Beijing is too close, too important and too strategic to ignore.

Ahead of Li’s visit, Anwar told Chinese media that Malaysia planned to join the BRICS bloc of developing economies but didn’t give details. The plan was confirmed by Malaysian officials on Monday. The bloc’s core members are Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, who seek a fairer world order currently dominated by Western nations. The bloc expanded with Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates invited to become members this year. Some 40 countries have also expressed interest.

“Joining BRICS doesn’t mean Malaysia will lose its strategic ambiguity between Beijing and Washington. It merely means an additional platform to give it a bigger voice as a middle power,” said James Chin, professor of Asian studies at Australia’s University of Tasmania.

Li also had an audience with King Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar. He and Anwar later broke ground for a terminal station for the East Coast Rail Link, which connects Malaysia’s west coast to eastern rural states and is a key part of China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

Li said at the ceremony that the railway was the largest single transportation infrastructure project undertaken by a Chinese company overseas. Once it is completed, he said China is willing to work with Malaysia to develop projects along the railway line to drive more commerce, logistics and tourism. Li said the rail line also could potentially be linked to Thailand, and subsequently to southern China.

The project was suspended in 2018 after Malaysia’s long-ruling coalition was toppled in a historic general election over a massive corruption scandal. It was subsequently revived after the Chinese contractor agreed to cut the construction cost by one-third, and is now due to be completed by the end of 2026.

The two leaders will also attend a dinner to celebrate the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Both leaders will also meet the business community at a luncheon before Li heads home Thursday.

Follow AP’s Asia-Pacific coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific

rural tourism in china

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  5. 320 villages listed as China's key rural tourism spots

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  6. 2019: China's rural tourism revenue tops 850 bln yuan

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  30. Fresh Malaysian durians will make their way to China as trade deals

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