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Insights & Inspirations | A Case Study of Wucun by Xu Xiaolei


Xu Xiaolei
Chief Brand Officer of CYTS and Secretary General of CYTS Alliance, China CYTS Tours Holding Co., Ltd

Mr. Secretary-General Liu, Mr. Director-General Zheng, Distinguished leaders, journalists, dear colleagues,

Good afternoon.

Today’s event reminds me of the last offline event I attended with Mr. Secretary-General Liu. It was in early January 2018, four years ago. We were  in Venice for the launch of the China-EU Tourism Year. Back then, inbound and outbound travel was still common, and no one could imagine how the world and the industry could change so much in just four years. We are all deeply affected.

Today’s theme is rural revitalization. First of all we need to answer some questions. In the past five years, how did the rural revitalization drive fare at home and abroad? What role did culture and tourism industries play in it? In recent years, faced with changes unseen in the past century, China has put forward the development pattern that is focused on the domestic economy and features positive interplay between domestic and international economic flows. In the domestic economic flow, I think the biggest and most important development foundation and engine are in the countryside. After winning the decisive victory against poverty, the CPC Central Committee rolled out the strategy of rural revitalization to expand and consolidate achievements made in poverty alleviation, and as a strategic response to changes in both international and domestic markets.

Under these new circumstances, culture and tourism industries are vital for rural revitalization for two reasons. First, they are an important consumption market. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and other factors, travel and tourism are limited within one to two hours’ drive at the maximum, that is, areas near the city center, which has created opportunities for the countryside. Second, the countryside has the key engine needed for the future development of culture and tourism industries. Cities, especially core urban areas, are unlikely to provide land above the designated scale for construction purposes, while the countryside has plenty of room to offer. Of course in reality we must not squander the space on demolition and construction on a large scale.

Today I would like to share with you one of our projects in Wucun, Wuzhen to show how the culture and tourism business can contribute to rural revitalization.

Wucun is a small village by the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, and was preserved in the development of Wuzhen. It is a typical village in the south of the Yangtze River, with the characteristics of rural lifestyles and businesses.

The renovation of Wucun was initiated in 2015. By then CYTS had been investing in Wuzhen’s tourism industry for nearly ten years, during which the Wuzhen scenic area saw its operating income soar from RMB 150 million to RMB 1.1 billion, the number of visitors from more than 2 million to more than 8 million, as it hosted the World Internet Conference and many other major conventions and exhibitions. Wuzhen has become a model of cultural and scenic areas in China.

At that time, we often asked ourselves what we should do next to evolve Wuzhen from a small tourist town into a resort town, a town of conventions and exhibitions. What new products do we need? The Wucun project was first designed as an original rural holiday product tailored to family travel of city dwellers. Products like this should first be conducive to rural development, and second be highly friendly to tourists and holidaymakers.

When the project was launched, there were many problems: poor transport conditions in the village; motley architectural styles and almost non-existent public services; scattered unauthorized buildings; a hollowed-out village in shortage of labor. The environment on the whole was not friendly at all to the holidaymakers. At the same time, due to the spillover effect of Wuzhen, there were already many farm stays outside the scenic area, but the consumer experience was mixed.

Considering these problems, we made efforts in several aspects. First, we respected and preserved the original village layout. Wuzhen, from Dongzha (East Area) to Xizha (West Area), has consistently embodied the concept of conservation-based development; no old building was simply demolished to make room for new ones. As you can see, these beautiful buildings still have the distinct rural atmosphere, a flavor of the past.

Second, the “static” functions are separated from the “dynamic” ones, and the style of new buildings and that of old ones are harmonized. The original residential buildings are basically preserved, with entertainment facilities nearby, to ultimately achieve a uniform visual identity. The ancient-building restoration and conservation followed the principle of “keeping the old-style appearance of old buildings,” but inside the “old” buildings, the consumer experience is nothing but “old”; even the snacks are exquisite.

Third, in terms of business development, we diversified the rural sightseeing tour into an in-depth rural leisure and vacation tour. The core was to create a family atmosphere for leisure seekers and holiday makers. This is very important, and is a challenge facing all rural tour operators.

Fourth, in terms of service, we set up the Chief Cultural Officer (CCO) position. The CCO is a tour guide “passionate about cultural and creative businesses” and with rich knowledge of traditional Chinese culture to serve family travel. The CCO is the event and experience organizer, very important for the tourist experience in Wucun. It’s fair to say that the CCO is at the core of Wucun’s business ecosystem. Nearly all the tourists, adults and children alike, are connected to the village through him. I think for us Chinese, what suits the family travel best is a dedicated tour guide like the CCO.

Wucun also offers all-inclusive package deals which effectively address the pain point of family tourists. There has been a lot of discussion about that among business insiders, and I won’t elaborate here.

The great success of Wucun owes much to good tourist products which have won high praises from the tourists and consumers. Its achievements in rural development are mainly manifested in the following three aspects.

First, in promoting entrepreneurship, most of the employees of the Wucun project are local villagers, and many of them are even hired to farm the land. But it’s different from what they did before. Now farming is part of the tourist experience and a production activity at the same time. What you harvest will go straight to the restaurants, with more value than before.

Second, in terms of the development of rural industries, traditional farming is integrated with the modern leisure industry, an example of the current trend of integrating agriculture, culture and tourism. Of course, you may say that Wucun is special for it has all the traffic from the Wuzhen scenic area, especially Xizha. What I want to say is, traffic is nothing if you don’t have a good product. As far as I know, Wuzhen and Wucun both enjoy a very high proportion of return visits, recommendations and repeat purchases. I think that says a lot about what the market thinks of Wucun.

Third, in developing the cultural and creative industry, Wucun has done more than simply applying and grafting the farming culture in the south of the Yangtze River; it has managed to integrate it with art and fashion, and done a brilliant job in making farming look trendy.

Wucun’s success is built mainly on rational analysis of visitors’ pain point. What does our core customer group want? And what can the village offer to them? I think it was the solid answers to these two questions that gave Wucun a competitive edge.

Next, Wucun will continue to develop more products and services for niche markets, and create more value with service.

We all agree that tourism is essentially a modern service industry. A product, no matter how appealing it looks outside, is doomed to fail, sooner or later, if the customer experience is bad. This picture shows some of the night-time events regularly held in Wucun. As you can see, nearly all the visitors in the village, including our service staff, instantly bond together and become friends at such moments. It’s also a good community-building scene.

Next, Wucun will continue to segment our customers, especially those affected by the “Double Reduction” policy and those interested in study tours. We also have plans for smart agriculture and smart marketing. We will increase Wucun’s tourist reception capacity and further expand its consumption space.

After introducing to you our Wucun project, I would like to share some thoughts about today’s theme.

Today we gather here to discuss rural revitalization and the empowering role of culture and tourism. In fact, nearly 100 years ago, also in this part of Shandong, our predecessors Liang Shuming and Yan Yangchu launched an ambitious “rural construction” campaign which unfortunately remained just a dream in those days. But today, as the country gears up for rural revitalization, the culture and tourism industries have golden opportunities. Rural areas are home to agriculture. In retrospect, in the 30 years from the 1980s to 2010, when conditions permitted, rural areas often chose to transition from the primary sector to the secondary and tertiary sectors, often to great success, while rural areas without such conditions were often stuck in the primary sector, and became laggards in economic growth. In the past 30 or 40 years, the secondary sector was probably the biggest beneficiary of rural development. For example, every time we talked about expanding consumption, we would mention the rural market, i.e. bringing home appliances, automobiles, etc. to rural consumers. In fact, products like these are only tools; they can improve living conditions, but bring few possibilities to the countryside.

The cultural and tourist products are different. I think what’s special about them and why they are important to the countryside is because they offer rural consumers experience, ideas and concepts. Cultural and tourist products are the projection of culture and ideas in real life, integrate the subject and the object, and achieve the fusion of and flow between the material world and the spiritual world. That’s why in rural areas with a booming tourism industry, the villagers generally enjoy a higher level of morale. Take entrepreneurs like Mr. Tian, the founder of Longwan, for example. What Mr. Tian has brought to local community is not just a model of rural tourism business, but a new ideological landscape, which I’m sure you’ve been fully aware of in these couple of days.

Among us are many faculty members and journalists. Your study and dissemination of best practices of rural revitalization will surely help broaden the development path of rural culture and tourism, and inspire more good practices among business insiders. By then Mr. Secretary-General Liu will have more wonderful success stories to share with the international community.

Thank you.