Tourism innovation is fueled by the mushroom craze

Tourism innovation is fueled by the mushroom craze

Credit: China Daily Editor

Wandering in a dense forest amid fresh air, colorful flowers, and the sweet melodies of wild birds, tourists might feel they are in fairy tale world. In fact, they are picking wild mushrooms in Yunnan province.

Tired of visiting crowded scenic spots during holidays, many people instead choose mushroom picking to rejuvenate themselves. This emerging trend in the Chinese tourism industry offers travelers a unique refreshing break from the urban hustle and bustle to reconnect with nature and immerse themselves in nature’s bounty. Along the way, they learn about the ecological significance of mushrooms and their role in the environment.

Away from the fast pace of city life, mushroom enthusiasts venture into Yunnan province to explore the hidden world of mushrooms, as travel agencies lure in visitors with various mushroom picking tourism offerings. Known for its stunning landscapes and diverse ecosystems, Yunnan provides numerous mushroom picking destinations.

Tech meets nature

Xu Yaowei is in charge of a mushroom picking project on the app “Youyunnan”. He explained to China Daily that it was launched in early July.

“There are two types of tour routes. The first is mainly targeted at tourists from outside the province. Their main demand is for a mushroom hunting experience, focusing on easily finding mushrooms (without restrictions on mushroom types), ferns, and other specialty Yunnan mountain delicacies,” Xu said. This package costs 168 yuan ($23).

The second route is for local and high-end customers, and includes a mushroom hunting experience (mainly edible mushrooms such as lurid bolete, tricholoma matsutake, boletus edulis), digging for polygonatum, picking wild tea, enjoying a mushroom feast on a farm, and visiting a local wild mushroom market. For the additional benefits, tourists can pay a very reasonable fee of 298 yuan.

The project was launched in response to a growing enthusiasm for picking mushrooms. Xu explained that in recent years, there has been a lot of content about mushrooms on social platforms during the mushroom season in Yunnan, attracting a lot of attention. It is regrettable that when visiting Yunnan, tourists are limited to eating wild mushrooms and cannot truly explore their natural habitat or experience the difficulty of discovering and picking a mushroom by themselves.

“Therefore, we believe that creating a seasonal tourism project like ‘come to Yunnan and pick mushrooms in the summer’ could be a marketable opportunity. This service fills a gap in the market and also allows tourists to have a more in-depth Yunnan experience,” said Xu.

The project is already a success. By the end of August, it conducted nearly 40 one-day wild mushroom collection tours, serving nearly 800 tourists. More than 95 percent of them are from outside the province. Most of them are college graduates and parents with children, ranging from 25 to 35 years old.

A 35-year-old teacher, surnamed Li, told China Daily that she made a special one-day visit to Yunnan from Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

“My child loves mushrooms and we bought many books about them. That’s why we visited Kunming to give my child a chance to be exposed to the wonders of nature and provide an educational experience,” said Li.

Li enjoyed the process of searching and exploring, and gained a lot of knowledge about mushrooms by observing and touching them. For her and her family, that’s quite an upgrade from reading books. Now they have mastered the skills needed for finding and picking mushrooms, and judging their edibility.

After her trip, she plans to recommend this hands-on project to her friends as a great experience for the whole family.

“The highlight was undoubtedly our encounter with the professional and passionate tour guide. The guide’s expertise in mushroom identification and extensive knowledge about the local ecosystem was truly impressive. Their engaging stories and interactive sessions enhanced our understanding and appreciation of the wild mushrooms we encountered,” Li added.

Mushroom land

Wild mushroom growth requires specific conditions such as altitude, light, humidity and vegetation. They often grow in multidimensional climates with complex topography at an altitude of 2,000 to 4,000 meters, such as the pine forests of Yunnan. Different geographical environments bring out diversity in wild mushroom species.

To find a suitable tour route, “Youyunnan” needed to consider factors such as the local environment and transportation convenience. Their tours shouldn’t interrupt the mushroom collection schedule of the locals.

After multiple surveys, they managed to find ideal wild mushroom picking routes in Kunming’s Panlong district, Jinning and Anning counties, and Chuxiong Yi autonomous prefecture.

Nanhua county in Chuxiong meets the above conditions. Its varying topography gives it a landscape characterized by rolling hills and vast forests. It is the reason why it has developed its mushroom tourism industry and is held as an example for other counties in Yunnan.

In terms of climate, the annual average temperature in Nanhua is around 15 C, with rainfall of 831 millimeters every year. The average annual sunshine duration is approximately 2,440 hours, local authority said. These figures indicate a relatively favorable climate to agricultural activities and tourism.

Due to these conditions, Nanhua boasts more than 290 kinds of edible wild mushrooms, accounting for 31.2 percent of China’s total edible mushroom species. In 2022, about 11,100 metric tons of mushrooms were traded in Nanhua and its total output value reached 5.291 billion yuan ($726 million).

On August 4, Nanhua hosted a ten-day mushroom culture festival. Ethnic music and dance were performed and mushroom cultural products were displayed, attracting 135,900 tourists. The festival’s revenue reached 120 million yuan.

Thanks to modern transportation facilities, wild mushrooms from Nanhua can be transported to Shenzhen, Guangdong province within 12 hours. From there, they are exported to more than twenty countries and regions.

“Young people who live in some of the destinations we offer want to cooperate with us, hoping to lead tourists to their mountains to pick mushrooms and pay a small fee to local farmers in return. This way, we can promote the local farmers’ produce and increase their income, allowing local residents to share the benefits of the developing tourism industry,” Xu added.

Mushroom safety first

To ensure a safe and sustainable experience, it is important for mushroom pickers to have a basic knowledge of mushroom identification. While some mushrooms are edible, others can be poisonous and dangerous if consumed, making professional guidance necessary.

Li Jin, a research assistant at Kunming Institute of Botany at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is a mushroom picking expert who is helping this project.

Li said that wild mushrooms are one of the important industries in Yunnan, and an increasing number of people are starting to experience wild mushrooms by collecting them in the wild. Different species of mushroom are often similar in color, shape, and odor, so it is easy for inexperienced nonprofessionals to confuse them. This can lead to cases of unintentional poisonous mushroom consumption.

“My job is to disseminate relevant knowledge about wild mushrooms, including how to find them in the wild, how to collect them after they are found, how to identify their edibility and toxicity, and introduce different types of wild mushrooms to tourists. This will allow travelers to further understand and recognize advancements in research related to large fungi, improve their science literacy, and promote the development of mushroom collection activities,” Li added.

Li Shan, a 40-year-old woman and guide for the mushroom picking project, is responsible for path planning, team member safety, schedule management, and assisting experts with mushroom introductions.

According to Li, who has four years of tourism experience, mushroom picking provides a unique opportunity to get close to nature by applying knowledge into practice. The process of searching for mushrooms is full of surprises and rewards.

“Children do not pick randomly. They can recognize different mushrooms and apply the knowledge we taught them to searching. They also make friends and take care of each other, and share their experience with their parents. It’s a good opportunity for their growth,” she added.

Considering the wild mushroom growth cycle, the conditions of the terrain at the destination, and availability of professional guides, Xu limited the number of tourists. They are required to wear gloves when collecting mushrooms to avoid touching food after direct contact with them.

Additionally, they need to follow their guide to avoid getting lost in the forest. Trash should be packed and taken away with them, rather than left in the wild.

“Next year, we will upgrade the routes to make them more educational and funny, give tourists more destination options, and develop products suitable for different customer groups. We will expand to other cities and prefectures, and high-end routes will be developed for picking tricholoma matsutake,” Xu added.

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