State-owned hotels attract bargain-hunting youth

Millennials and Gen-Z are drawn to classic state-owned guesthouses due to reasonable rates and novel experiences.

Photo provided to Jiemian News

Photo provided to Jiemian News

By DING Jingjing


China’s oldest state-owned guesthouses were designed for government business - official trips and hosting international dignitaries. Closed to the ordinary public for most of their lives, many have transitioned to commercial operations in recent years.

As China’s tourism environment continues to reinvent itself post-pandemic, these stuffy old hotels have become strangely popular among young people.

Nostalgia at any price?

While it’s tempting to believe that Gen-Z is driven by nostalgia and curiosity for the good old days of state-owned everything, the truth is much less high-brow. These hotels are cheap, and they were built to last. Rooms are often huge.

Online comments show divided opinion. Some appreciate the high cost-effectiveness, convenient locations, and security, while others express disappointment, finding them stark, imposing, and maybe a bit spooky.

Normally rated as four and five stars, rooms cost as little as 200 yuan (US$28), with some luxurious options exceeding 1,000 yuan.

Come into the garden

Some do indeed choose these hotels out of curiosity and a desire for a unique experience. And they really are located in prime locations.

They were designed with the highest levels of security and privacy in mind. They attract mainly business travelers and host high-profile conferences, resulting in enhanced security measures, and providing guests with a sense of reassurance. The walls are thick.

These guesthouses have even become destinations for leisure and relaxation for some travelers. Most of them feature elaborate aging outdoor spaces with traditional Chinese garden designs crafted by renowned landscape designers, offering landscaping and greenery that surpass ordinary hotels.

Those who express disappointment bemoan the lack of modern amenities like charging points in the rooms and outdated decor.

Challenged to change

Well-developed and distinctive hotels are mainly concentrated in Beijing, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shanghai. However, in third- and fourth-tier cities many have shut down, and others are in the throes of transformation.

Despite opening to the public, many still rely on official business travelers and a singular booking approach leads to low visibility.

Some early adopters have expanded their business portfolios. Nanjing Jinling Hotel, in collaboration with other brands, has grown its chain to 243 guesthouses.

Older hotels with outdated equipment find it challenging to compete with modern chains. Short-term popularity among faddish youth may not do much to help. Outdated facilities, low hygiene standards, and subpar service still need to be addressed.

Thinking more locally

But any kind of transformation demands substantial funds and cumbersome government approval processes have hindered renovation.

Instead of large-scale transformations, renovations based on unique characteristics can focus on local culinary specialties and cultural heritage.

The current interest among younger people presents an opportunity for these hotels to boost their profiles, leveraging OTA and social media platforms to target specific audience needs and increase publicity.