Zhejiang's Xiajiang village has improved its environment and attracted tourists from all over China who now make use of its homestays for longer halts.
Love at first sight－that is how Shao Juan, 38, describes her new business, a homestay-style hotel that has been created out of a traditional whitewashed house in Xiajiang village in Zhejiang province.
Previously an agricultural backwater, this picturesque corner of East China is now witnessing waves of tourists. More than 110,000 people visited the riverside village in 2016, and Shao's new venture has been inundated with bookings since it opened last September.
"We were fully booked from September to October," said Shao. "During the Spring Festival holiday, there were many orders that we couldn't manage."
Xiajiang's emergence as a tourist destination began in 2014 when a new highway cut through the verdant mountains surrounding the village. It shortened a three-hour winding journey from Qiandao Lake to a 50-minute drive, allowing a steady stream of visitors to make a detour to Xiajiang after seeing the famous lake.
Launch of a new hydroelectric station on June 1, which is 2 kilometers upstream of Xiajiang, is expected to help the village become a travel destination from a stop-off spot.
"Only about one tourist in 10 stays here overnight in the homestays," said Jiang Yinxiang, the Party's vice-secretary in Xiajing. "Tourists from neighboring cities enjoy a simple and relaxing day by harvesting wild vegetables in the mountains and paddling in the clear rivers, but they don't think there's enough to do to stay another day."
The facility, part of Zhejiang's "Water Movement", ensures 30 million cubic meters more water flows through the village each year.
Xiajiang is making full use of the extra water: A fishing area, dragon boat race course, waterside barbecue area and riverside theater just opened to attract visitors staying longer.
The local government estimates the new attractions will help attract 160,000 visitors this year, with 50,000 staying overnight at more than 20 homestays in the village. It hopes the operators will double their profits this year.
Shao's homestay is one of thousands popping up all over the Zhejiang countryside as the region's improved environment and infrastructure attract more wealthy, urban, car-driving Chinese to explore the province's rural areas.
Rural tourism in Zhejiang province generated more than 23 billion yuan (.37 billion) in 2015, with more than one-third of this revenue coming from homestays. By the end of 2016, there were 11,200 homestays in Zhejiang providing 177,000 beds.
"I just told some of my old clients about the new entertainments and they're looking forward to visiting Xiajiang again," said Shao."The environment in Xiajiang is improving and the homestay is far more than a business to me: it's my home."
The new opportunities and cleaner environment on offer in Zhejiang are attracting an increasing number of former migrants to return.