THIS Asian city is not on most people’s radar but the up-and-coming destination is suddenly the spot everyone wants to visit.
IT’S an Asian destination, but it’s not in Indonesia or Thailand. It’s a Chinese city, but it’s not Beijing or Shanghai. And despite its little-known status, it’s the most popular spot for Australian holiday-makers right now.
Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province, is having a massive popularity moment at the moment, according to new data from Kayak.com.au.
The booking agency has looked at emerging destinations that are seeing huge growth in search numbers and Chengdu — despite having an overall popularity ranking for Australian travellers of 130 — has come out on top, with year-on-year growth of 133 per cent.
It came out ahead of Da Nang in Vietnam (109 per cent growth), Athens in Greece (100 per cent), Male in the Maldives (86 per cent) and Ulan Bator in Mongolia (81 per cent).
Meanwhile, interest in popular Asian spots such as Thailand and Bali have remained about the same.
So what is it about Chengdu that’s drawing so many Australian travellers all of a sudden?
For starters, it’s a big city with a busy night-life and plenty to do, but it has a more relaxed vibe than Beijing or Shanghai.
It’s also considered the panda capital of China — pandas are a big deal in Chengdu. The Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, just outside town and easily accessible to tourists, is a massive research and breeding facility where visitors can get rare access to the vulnerable creatures, and even interact with them.
Robin Chiang, Kayak’s country head for Asia Pacific, said according to booking statistics Australian travellers were typically spending about 14 days Chengdu.
“It’s no surprise Chengdu has topped this year’s list — this growing economic hub of China is experiencing extraordinary growth and is undoubtedly the up-and-comer in the country’s booming tourism and trade market,” he said.
“Only late last year did Sydney announce a new non-stop flight to Chengdu by Air China’s inaugural Sydney-Chengdu service, and we can partly attribute this news to the increase in the rate of searchings and bookings to this destination.”
Direct flights between Australia and Chengdu started in 2012 with the launch of Sichuan Airline’s Chengdu to Melbourne service, which was touted as a crucial way to increase business, education and tourism links between the two cities.
Chengdu, known as the gateway to China’s far west, offered an array of experiences both for notice and seasoned travellers, Mr Chiang said.
“Located in southwest China, the provincial capital is a hub for flights making it easy for Aussies wishing to continue their travels within the country, and is one of many reasons more and more Aussies are frequenting the area.
“Travellers will love the city’s relaxing teahouse culture, as well as the lively night-life and delicious spicy food and cuisine-rich culture.
“While Chengdu is witnessing hi-tech start-ups moving in with a growing portfolio of high-end accommodation boutiques, galleries and shopping centres launching, the laid back atmosphere of taking tea and sitting in parklands remains. As such, Chengdu offers the perfect combination for a city stay.”
Aside from the giant panda base, which was a top drawcard for tourists, another highlight was the “Wide and Narrow Alleys” in the Qingyang District, a hub of restaurants and street vendors selling Sichuan cuisine and a favourite for locals and visitors alike.
And there were plenty of historic sites to visit, such as the burial site of Emperor Liu Bei and Wenshu Temple.
Other emerging spots identified in Kayak’s latest report were Thailand’s Krabi, Japan’s Osaka, Cambodia’s Siem Reap, Serbia’s Belgrade and Croatia’s Zagreb.
Mr Chiang said they were great options for people hoping to discover a place that didn’t seem that everyone had been already.
“We often see different groups of friends posting about the same destinations at the same time on social media, but there are many other must-go destinations that are equally Instagram-worthy,” Mr Chiang said.
Kayak also identified the best times to book to travel to those top 10 emerging destinations.
1. Chengdu, China: 2 months in advance
2. Da Nang, Vietnam: 2 months
3. Athens, Greece: 6 months
4. Male, Maldives: 2 months
5. Ulan Bator, Mongolia: 2 months
6. Krabi, Thailand: 3 months
7. Osaka, Japan: 3 months
8. Siem Reap, Cambodia: 3 months
9. Belgrade, Serbia: 5 months
10. Zagreb, Croatia: 5 months.
By Lauren McMah
News Corporation Network