There’s no place like Gohome: Chinese app sees ‘agritainment’ as new cash cow, way to get migrant workers to go home - as bosses

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 February, 2016, 5:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 February, 2016, 6:22pm

As China remains in the throes of a domestic and outbound tourism boom despite its slowing economy, a new app called Gohome aims to tap an interesting niche by providing services for so-called “agritainment” trips to rural parts of the country.

Agritainment refers to any farm-based tourism operation that provides agriculture-themed entertainment, such as hands-on experience milking goats or learning how to make meals using produce grown on the land beneath your feet.

Gohome co-founder Zhang Ji is eyeing the hundreds of millions of Chinese who may only take a trip abroad once a year, if at all, but who have the time and money to travel frequently to the Chinese hinterlands in search of new experiences, or to escape the city and reconnect with nature.

“Now we have up to 100 orders a day but we hope to raise this to 1,500 by year’s end after we expand to four more provinces,” he told the South China Morning Post this week.

So far the app’s jurisdiction has been restricted to his home province of Guizhou in southwest China, but he plans to extend it to include Chongqing, a sprawling municipality located nearby, as well as the three clustered provinces of Guangxi, Sichuan and Yunnan.

Zhang said most of the app’s users spend between 100 yuan and 200 yuan per person per trip (US$15-$30).

Although the current userbase is small, the app may explode in popularity given its broad-spectrum appeal to everyone ranging from bored, wealthy city slickers to vacationing students and unemployed migrants who venture home to see their families and want to have some fun along the way.

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It has now attracted over 10,000 people from Guizhou, according to the company, as it builds a bridge between them and the more than 600 restaurants and inns offering services and activities via the app.

The company wants to grow this 100-fold to hit 1 million people and 7,000 businesses in rural areas before Christmas.

People can use the app to find details on what programmes each restaurant along their tour route is offering, the price per capita, the kind of accommodation provided, and so on.

“More than 80 per cent of our users are young people living in second- and third-tier cities with an average monthly income about 4,000 yuan,” said Zhang, referring to cities with populations in the millions that are ranked lower than eight or so Chinese megalopolises including Beijing and Shanghai.

“They like to drive to the countryside at the weekend to relax before heading back to the city.”

As economic growth shunts to a lower gear and millions are still reeling from recent stock market volatility, even the well-to-do may opt to take their extended family to a farm in a neighbouring province for the weekend, where they can buy an organic egg for 2 yuan or ride horses cheaply.

Zhang said local authorities have spoken warmly of his enterprise and how it gives local businesses a presence online from which they can profit and grow.

It can help farmers promote their wares in big cities and give start-ups created by migrant workers after they head home a helping hand, he said.

Media reports say China has at least 1.5 million restaurants running farm-friendly or agriculture-themed programmes, benefitting over 15 million farmers and generating annual income of about 150 billion yuan (US$23 billion).

Moreover, the State Council - China’s de facto cabinet - issued policies recently encouraging new college graduates, discharged soldiers and migrant workers to return home to invest in new businesses and set themselves up as entrepreneurs in their local communities.

The number of people starting their own businesses in rural areas climbed 3.1 per cent in the first six months of 2015, according to research conducted by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. It collected employment data on 500 villages in 10 provinces.

Taken separately, however, the corresponding figure for Guizhou jumped a whopping 58 per cent.

“We want to help migrant workers stay home and show them how to apply for government subsidies and bank loans so they can start an agritainment business of their own,” Zhang said.