Before 2013, more than half of the population of Shanping Village in Guizhou were migrant workers but, thanks to a boom in rural tourism, villagers are returning in droves.
Deng Chengyong runs a restaurant and homestay, also known as a family inn, in Shanping, catering for city slickers who flock to the village for its breath-taking scenery. He easily makes 140,000 yuan (22,550 U.S. dollars) a year, far more than his factory job in the city.
In 2014 alone, China saw some 1.2 billion visits made to the countryside, accounting for one third of all holidays. Rural tourism created 22 million jobs in 2014 for farmers, whose average income increased by 9,700 yuan, Shao Qiwei, head of China Tourism Association, said at the Eco Forum Global annual conference, which concluded Sunday in Guizhou's capital Guiyang.
"Wonderful nature, healthy food and a laid-back lifestyle make rural vacations attractive," Shao said. "In China, there is still so much potential."
In 2013, after spending over two decades working in numerous coastal cities, Deng heard that the local government was promoting farm tourism in Shanping. He jumped at the opportunity to move back to his much-loved hometown.
Soon more people like Deng could reestablish their lives in the countryside, as China encourages migrant workers to return home to setup businesses. The central government is ramping up investment for supportive infrastructure, and a document was issued earlier this year promising favorable policies to promote rural tourism.
Shanping's business success is a reflection of the booming rural tourism market. The sector is expanding off the back of increasing disposable income and improved transportation as frazzled urbanites seek countryside refuge, generating business opportunities for rural residents.
Tourism is an effective way to tackle poverty in underdeveloped areas. So far, more than 8 million farmers have been lifted out of poverty thanks to rural tourism.
China plans to build 150,000 tourism villages and 3 million family inns, in preparation for more than 2 billion rural visits by 2020. By then, about 50 million farmers will benefit from the industry, and around 1 million rural residents each year will no longer live below the breadline.
"Rural tourism not only helps farmers financially, but also means people will no longer have to move to the big cities," said Shao Qiwei.
Living in the countryside also offers social as well as financial benefits.
"Some residents have formed an orchestra," said Huang Guangming, head of Shanping Village committee of Communist Party of China, adding that there are also groups for painting, calligraphy, photography and dancing.