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Tapping New Trends to Restart Local Economies

2020-08-27 20:02:00 Source:China Today Author:JIANG HAOFENG
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AFTER China brought the COVID-19 epidemic under control, shops in many cities began to extend their business hours and set up outdoor shopping places; night markets have become busy again. During the process, the country is trying to tap various new trends to help the reopening of local economies safely and smoothly.
                  

Tourists throng the Xiangyang Ancient City of Hubei Province at night on June 13, 2020.

B&B on TikTok

“Hello everyone and welcome to Fenghuang Ancient City. I promise that girls will like the following scenic spot I am going to introduce,” Mr. Li, who was born in the 1980s and runs a B&B in Fenghuang, Hunan Province, said during a live broadcast on the video sharing platform TikTok. The video recorded before May 1 this year has already received more than 600 likes. More encouragingly, this video really brought business to his B&B. When a family of three learned that there was no epidemic in the ancient city, they drove by.

Initially, Li’s wife operated a B&B in Fenghuang by herself. Later, because she needed to take care of their daughter, Li returned to the ancient city to take care of the business. During the epidemic, Li was very worried. Every day when he opened his eyes, he thought about how another RMB 1,500 was gone, since the house is rented, and the transfer fee is RMB 400,000. The decorations of 12 rooms cost over RMB 1 million, and the labor costs are RMB 150,000 a year. The subsequent rent is RMB 150,000 per year. If the epidemic was not brought under control nationwide, even though there were no cases in the ancient city, it would be very difficult financially for the family since tourists from other parts of the country and beyond could not come. Fortunately, after the epidemic was brought under control across China, since March the number of customers has begun to slowly grow.

During the epidemic, Li continued to update his short videos on TikTok. He told various stories of the ancient town and took audiences on tours around the ancient city online. Other B&B owners in the city also did the same thing.

After seeing the video, a family of three drove to Fenghuang to spend the weekend, and contacted Li on WeChat. When they reached the ancient city, Li picked them up and scanned their health codes on their mobile phones. In the evening, Li’s family accompanied the guests to eat dinner in the courtyard. Later, Li received a call from another group of guests. Though the number of customers is not yet back to the level of last year, Li’s business is no longer in the red.

             

A seafood stand at a night market in Kunming, Yunnan Province, on June 12, 2020.

In June, local businesses began to flourish again. Compared with the fact that the accounts barely broke even when the business resumed in March, the shopkeepers finally ushered in a turnaround during early summer months.

“Although the epidemic has been brought under control, we still need to take protection measures. For example, we tell the guests under what circumstances they must wear a mask,” Li said, then added, “Finding customers through TikTok and checking their health codes before entering the city also allows people here to socialize with confidence.” Li also reminds tourists to pay attention to rules of social distance during visiting.

Night Markets Blooming Again

Pingshan is a village in the city of Shenzhen, which was dirty and disorderly in previous years. Then earlier this year, with the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic in the country, Pingshan implemented very strict management, such as no littering of garbage and no gathering. Even though there are still security guards at the village entrance to take body temperature of residents and visitors before they enter, business has resumed and restaurants are open until wee hours.

After the epidemic subsided in Wuhan, the city did not relax in epidemic prevention and control. Every evening, Mr. Chen, a security guard, goes to work to inspect the night market located on Baocheng Road, maintain order, and urge stall owners to carry out epidemic prevention measures. “Because of the epidemic, this market was closed for several months. It can be reopened now, we should cherish it,” Chen said, “Everyone is more comfortable visiting a well-ordered night market.” In addition to the stall certificate, each stallholder’s nucleic acid test result must be shown before they begin their business. Some stall owners are too busy and often forget to do that, so Chen has to remind them. “We must be responsible for everyone’s health as well as the safety of the night market,” he said.

                       

Citizens wear masks while shopping at a night market in Wuhan, Hubei Province on June 3, 2020. Recently, the city has reopened night market stalls.

The night market stretches over several streets. At every street intersection, there is a notice board placed by the market managers, which not only reminds citizens who come to the night market to maintain social distance, but also provides QR codes for citizens to scan and register. Since Wuhan released the results of nucleic acid test for local residents, visitors to the market feel relieved. From the time Wuhan went into lockdown in late January, until the epidemic was brought under control, the majority of citizens in Wuhan stayed at home for half a year. Now all kinds of consumption are activated in the night market. “We want to change a cell phone screen protector. The price at the market is about the same as the price of buying it online, but in the night market, the stallholder can help you put the protective screen cover on, which saves me a lot of trouble,” said a local resident Chen Fan, who visited the night market with his girlfriend. There are also some consumer items and services in the night market that online stores cannot provide. For example, manicure products. For women in Wuhan, after the epidemic, they began to pay attention to cosmetics again. There is an extra procedure done now at nail salons — carefully disinfect with alcohol spray before leaving.

After the epidemic, there were college students like Zhang Chao and his classmate who run stalls at the night market. They run a booth that was rented by Zhang’s uncle, selling plush toys. The business does not go as well as they have expected it to. After peddling for a while, they start to play on their mobile phones.

According to Zhang’s uncle, to be a vendor requires skills. He went through numerous hardships working at the market. At first, the management fee charged by the market was very low. Nonetheless, it was difficult for him to do business at that time. As he gradually gained experience, his business slowly began to take off. Nowadays, with the popularity of online shopping, visiting the night market has largely become a social need for people. How to provide the shopping experience not found online has become an issue that small vendors need to think hard of. “Just playing with your cell phone, you can’t think deeper,” the uncle said to his nephew.

Early Birds Catch the Worms

Early this March, when the epidemic situation was relatively tight, the ancient town of Nanguan in Hebei Province started the construction of electric power facilities, such as opening a green channel for power supply, upgrading services, promptly and fully transfer the dividends of the electricity fee reduction, and implementing an exemption policy to power consumers. Meanwhile, taking advantage of the lack of tourists during the epidemic, the power department laid a new cable pipeline on the south side of the ancient town.

Today, the night market in Nanguan has already resumed business. A stall owner named Liu Xiaoying said that the county government helped coordinate the venues and the business has been very good since its opening, reaching average daily sales of more than 100 orders in early June. She saw that after the epidemic, more people began operating at the night market. Without upgrades of power facilities during the epidemic, the reopened night market would not have been able to accommodate so many operators now.

In the ancient city of Fenghuang, according to Li, the local government made use of the period of epidemic prevention and control this year to upgrade the scenic spot. The project team completed the renovation work of the main streets in 35 days, and completed the four-kilometer pipeline dredging in 45 days. Today, the ancient town as seen at night is more beautiful than it was before the epidemic. Overhead wires are buried in the ground, and various types of pipelines for communication and power transmission are separated in an orderly manner. Li is very satisfied and feels that this repairing has added a lot of charm to the ancient town.

In order to help operators engage in night economy, the property management company in Shudu Center in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, uniformly provided the stalls with flowers and designated an area for operators to set up their booths at night. Operators also signed a Commitment for the Use of Commercial Outer Areas document which clarifies 10 obligations. In this way, the city of reinforced concrete has become more colorful.  

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JIANG HAOFENG is a reporter at Xinmin Weekly.

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