China’s Camping Tourism & Leisure Plan to Boost Outdoor Recreation and Education
Standards development, coordination, and education & training of camping professionals sought in comprehensive, wide-ranging plan
In November 2022, China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism and other government entities jointly issued a notice regarding "Guidance on Promoting the Healthy and Orderly Development of Camping Tourism and Leisure."
The guidance document gives instruction regarding implementing components of China’s 14th Five-Year Plan for Tourism Industry Development, and the country’s National Tourism and Leisure Development Outline 2022-2030.
The plan’s aim is to “enrich the supply of tourism and leisure products, guide the development of camping tourism and leisure in an orderly manner, and continuously meet the needs of the people for a better life.”
Recipients of the document were directed to implement the guidance.
China’s vision for camping tourism, like much else in the country, is guided by Xi Jinping Thought, the nation’s official political doctrine. The aim is to implement the spirit of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Tenets include:
Promote high-quality development of the tourism industry
Deepen supply-side structural reform and expand high-quality supply
Ensure the safety of camping tourism and leisure
Promote the healthy and orderly development of camping tourism and leisure
Continuously meet the growing needs of the people for a better life
In the plan, camping tourism and leisure means “activities that use self-provided or rented equipment outdoors for the main purpose of recreation, sports and entertainment, and natural education,” or which occur in sites designed for camping and which have established camping facilities.
Tent camping in China. Credit: Xinhua
The plan calls for adherence to five basic principles:
Use a people-centered approach. Meet the growing demands of the people for tourism and leisure services. Expand the supply of high-quality services to meet this demand.
Standardization and quality. Promote the construction of public camps, expand the scale of public camps, and improve service quality. Encourage and support the standardized construction of operational camps. Improve the quality of camping products.
Reasonable guidance and sustainable development. Use high-quality planning and design processes, using existing resources well, and share management resources. “Avoid blindly launching projects and vicious competition,” the plan says.
Foster environmentally friendly camping. Leave No Trace camping is to be promoted. “Green tourism” and low-carbon activities should be employed. The plan says, “Guide the people to get close to nature and protect the ecological environment.”
Integrated development. The plan calls for integrating camping with culture, sports, and other industries. “Industrial synergy” and coordination between industries should be strengthened. “Promote the coordinated development of all links in the upstream and downstream industrial chains of camping, tourism and leisure,” the plan says.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park provides camp opportunities
The plan identifies eight key tasks. These continue the theme of integrating with other parts of society and the economy, and emphasize providing robust, diverse and high-quality outdoor free-time activities.
1. Quality planning and design.
Leisure and tourism planning should conform to established land use plans. Camp construction projects should be included in the national land space planning map for coordination and consistency.
“Scientifically arrange the construction of camps,” the plan directs.
The plan calls for the construction of a “national camp service network system” integrated with national tourist scenic roads, national trail systems, and sports parks. Camps are to be designed to be used for emergency services, youth education, and outdoor functions such as sports.
Venue placement must keep safety and environmental protection in mind. The plan states: “Site selection for camps should be scientific and reasonable, with attention to safety. Avoid areas with important or vulnerable ecological locations; stay away from floods, mountain torrents, geological disasters and other natural disaster-prone areas, and areas where dangerous wild animals and plants are active.”
2. Expand service supply.
China’s rapidly growing middle class is increasing demand for leisure-time options. “Encourage localities to build a number of public camps according to their needs and local conditions,” the plan says. “Build public camps, and improve the construction level and service quality of public camps.”
The plan calls for boosting the most vigorous businesses: “Support market players to grow bigger and stronger.”
The development of tourist attractions, tourist resorts, rural tourism spots, recreational belts around cities, country parks, and sports parks are all to be encouraged.
Constructing facilities to a high standard in nature reserves, but minimizing environmental impacts of that development, is part of the plan.
3. Provide diverse, comprehensive & integrated services.
China wants lots of camping tourism and leisure options, and wants them deeply enmeshed with cultural, educational, medical, travel, sporting, and other aspects of life.
The plan says, “Vigorously develop a variety of camp forms such as self-driving caravan campsites, tent campsites, and youth camps to meet diverse camping needs.”
“Promote the deep integration and development of culture and tourism, fully tap cultural resources, and enrich the experience of camping, tourism and leisure,” the plan dictates.
“Encourage and guide camps to cooperate with related institutions such as cultural museums, performing arts, and fine arts, and combine music festivals, art festivals, sports competitions and other mass festivals and events to enrich service content,” the plan continues. “Integrate with outdoor sports, nature education, leisure and health care, etc.”
4. Support high-quality standards.
Outdoor recreation has grown rapidly in China in recent years, but the standards, safety systems and infrastructure have not always kept up. This plan should help close that gap.
The plan calls for strengthening standards development and upgrading product and service quality to enhance the reputation of camping in China—“to create an excellent camp brand.”
Local groups should introduce and implement local standards in combination with national and industry standards.
This applies to everything from campground construction and service specifications to self-driving caravan (RV) campsite standards.
5. Promote the development of the entire industrial chain.
China’s master planning notably promotes breaking down silos and integrating various sectors of the economy. “Make the upstream and downstream industrial chains of camping, tourism and leisure bigger and stronger, and improve the overall efficiency of the entire industrial chain,” the plan says.
Helping camping companies grow is a priority. “Guide the large-scale and chain operation of campsites,” the plan says, and “incubate high-quality campsite brands.”
Just as China's plan for developing its outdoor sports industry calls for market dominance, the camping plan calls for boosting Chinese industries, calling for support of “domestic camping industry-related equipment manufacturers such as caravans, tents, clothing, and outdoor sports.” Travel agencies are also called to develop camping tourism and leisure products.
The plan also calls for enhancing thought leadership in the field, directing that “professional institutions such as camping industry consulting training, planning and design” be cultivated.
6. Standardize management and operation.
Systems for licensing, permits, health, food, fire prevention and fire-fighting, public security, signage, accurate marketing information, and epidemic prevention and control are to be enhanced.
7. Safety and security.
“Camping, tourism and leisure business entities must strictly implement safety precautions,” the plan admonishes. Requirements here range from the broad to the specific, covering “fire protection, food, hygiene, ecological environment protection, disaster prevention, etc.”
In flood season, operators should set up warning signs, once heavy rainfall is forecast.
Forest and grassland fire prevention and control requirements should be “strictly implemented.”
Operators must “prohibit all fire use during forest and grassland high fire danger periods,” and “do a good job of releasing safety information.”
Camp and leisure services providers should prepare emergency material reserves and install security management equipment such as cameras.
And insurance companies should develop camping-related insurance products, the plan says.
China recognizes that advertising camping opportunities is important for encouraging broad participation in outdoor recreation experiences.
Local events such as camping exhibitions and festivals should be organized to promote camping activities.
The plan also calls for responsible parties to “strengthen the promotion of camping tourism and leisure.” They should emphasize the benefit of camping in “promoting spiritual civilization, disseminating excellent culture, advocating green tourism and promoting youth education.”
The plan provides five points of administrative guidance. These continue to focus on connecting camping to other sectors such as transportation and academia, and ensuring high standards are established and maintained.
Provide oversight. Government departments must “fulfill their supervisory and management responsibilities.” Local Communist party committees and government bodies should ensure that localities “formulate policies and measures to promote the development of camping tourism and leisure” and standardize management systems.
Governing bodies should “strengthen inter-departmental coordination and linkage.” And they should “promote the formation of a comprehensive governance pattern of departmental linkage, industry self-discipline, and corporate responsibility performance.”
Provide financial support. China recognizes that this effort will take money, and that government must provide funding to realize the vast ambitions of the plan. Responsible entities are directed to provide funding to support the construction of “public campsites, roads connected to arterial highways, parking lots, toilets, telecommunications, sanitation, fire protection and other infrastructure.”
Promote brand synergy. Camping and leisure destinations must work together. Camping tourism and leisure ‘brands’ such as “national and provincial tourist resorts, national and provincial tourism and leisure cities, key villages and towns for rural tourism, sports tourism demonstration bases, etc.” are required to collaborate for mutual benefit.
Develop tourism industry groups and standards. China has a relative dearth of outdoor and camp industry associations, with the Chinese Mountaineering Association being one of the few well-established bodies.
In many countries, outdoor activity providers are left to organize industry associations and standards-setting bodies on their own. Not so here.
Those responsible for implementing the Camping Tourism & Leisure Plan must support industry associations, “formulate industry norms, promote industry self-discipline, establish industry communication and coordination mechanisms, and promote industry exchanges.”
Strengthen theoretical and personnel support. The plan calls for enhancing research on “difficult issues and hot topics in the development of camping tourism and leisure.”
The education and training system for camping professionals is to be improved.
And the resources of government departments, scientific research institutes, enterprises, and industry organizations are to be integrated.
Mongolian Yurt camping in the Gobi desert, Ejina Qi, Inner Mongolia, China.
Analyzing China’s Camping Tourism & Leisure Plan
Speed and Scale
China can move fast, and with breathtaking scale.
China's space program, for example, began in 1986, decades after those of the USA and USSR. China now has a space station, and plans to put astronauts on the moon and Mars. The US military predicts China will surpass the USA's space capabilities as soon as 2045, noting China's "stunningly fast" progress.
This plan, similarly, calls for a massive and integrated development of China’s camping and leisure services sector, on a level few if any nations can match.
Power in China is consolidated in the central government, and as a result, the delays inherent in the consultation and deliberation of democratically governed nations can be swept aside. Observers say this helps China envision and execute massive development projects—and do it fast.
Just as China’s Outdoor Sport Industry Development Plan 2022-2025 calls for 10,000 outdoor sports camps to be built by 2025, this plan sees the development of China’s outdoor recreation sector taking massive steps forward.
Well-Developed and Comprehensive Guidance
The Camping Tourism & Leisure Plan comes across as strategic and thoughtfully developed, with attention to micro- and macro-scale factors that will figure into its successful implementation.
The plan is nothing if not comprehensive. It considers everything from internet platforms and land use planning agencies to environmental protection, insurance carriers, scientific research institutes, industry organizations, public security, and more.
And, again and again, the plan calls for unified movement towards a singular goal. Squabbling between competing agencies is replaced with collaboration, cooperation and tight integration between government, industry, academia, health care, sporting bodies, and more.
Too many government initiatives flounder due to lack of funding, but this plan explicitly calls for government bodies to “use existing funding channels” to ensure campsites, roads, and other camping infrastructure is built.
And the plan calls for developing intellectual assets as well as physical infrastructure. Research institutes are called to participate, and industry associations—which can presumably develop practitioner certification and organizational accreditation schemes—are to be developed. Consultants who can provide products such as the risk management training and consulting services that Viristar and other consultancies have provided in China are to be supported as well.
Over 15,000 campers by Mount Wugong in Jiangxi province for the International Camping Festival
High-quality standards—for activity safety and quality, camp facility master planning, practitioner qualification, curriculum delivery, and physical facilities, among others—are essential for the effectiveness of the outdoor recreation sector.
China’s plan repeatedly emphasizes that effective standards must be thoughtfully developed and put into place, at the national, regional, and local level.
Other countries, such as Singapore, the United Kingdom, the USA (in part), Finland and India have developed, or are developing, safety or quality standards for organized outdoor activities. China looks to be joining the ranks of those nations with documented standards for the outdoor sector.
And as well-developed and appropriately enforced government regulation is often more effective in supporting outdoor safety than are voluntary approaches, China’s government-driven approach—if thoughtfully built and implemented—can drive dramatic improvements in a short period of time.
Critics of Western governance voice their perspective that while countries like the UK and the USA consume themselves with political intra-party squabbles and culture wars while protecting the moneyed classes, China continues a relentless and focused drive on developing its economy, building its industries, and establishing domestic infrastructure capable of dominating entire global economic sectors.
It remains to be seen how China’s Camping Tourism & Leisure Plan will unfold, and the extent to which the political will to drive the plan forward will be sustained amidst competing priorities.
But for all those in China who seek to enjoy the country’s majestic mountains, sparkling waters, and beautiful outdoor landscapes, and to avail themselves of high-quality outdoor recreation services, it appears that the future looks bright.
Note: the report on Camping Tourism & Leisure Guidance was translated from the original Chinese. Translation imperfections may have led to loss of nuance in the language or intent of the original report, though all reasonable efforts were taken to ensure the accuracy of this article.