What is red tourism and why is it growing so fast?
27th January, 2023
Red tourism is big business and it is growing too! But what actually is red tourism and where can we find it? Read on to learn more….
What is red tourism?
Red tourism is an interesting phenomenon. It relates to tourism which takes place in former and current ‘red countries’ – e.g communist countries! The most common examples are China and also Russia, but you’ll see some more below too. Red tourism destinations offer an insight into what it is and was like to live under communism.
The term does originate from China, which is why it is one of the most common examples of a red tourism destination. One definition comes from the Indian Express, who say:
Launched in 2004, the purpose of the project is to promote locations with historical and cultural significance to the ruling Communist Party’s history while also providing an impetus to tourism and local businesses.
‘Red tourism’ seeks to spread awareness about the history of the Communist Party of China starting from its origins. For instance, historical events such as the Long March, the military retreat undertaken by the Red Army to evade the pursuit of the Kuomintang in 1934, and the ascent to power of Mao Zedong are at the heart of the project.
Why has the red tourism industry grown so fast?
There are a few different reasons as to why red tourism might have grown in popularity over the years. As I have discussed a few times on Tourism Teacher, people are so often rejecting the slower-paced all-inclusive relaxation style of holiday these days. People want to explore and learn, to take in all of a place and really experience a destination. This has definitely had an impact on the growth of more education-style tourist destinations.
Another reason for the growth in red tourism, in China at least, is definitely the support it gets from the government. Back in 2010, officials across 13 cities (listed below) signed the China Red Tourism Cities Strategic Cooperation Yan’an Declaration. They did so to advance red tourism across these areas in order to benefit the Party and the people in cultural, political and economic ways. They wanted to support/promote the national ethos, and also improve the socioeconomic development of these (rural and often poorer) areas of the country. These places are:
A third factor in the growth of red tourism can be linked to the recent increase in popularity for communism itself. Reports show that around ⅓ of US millennials approve of communism. As more and more people become unhappy with the current state of political affairs in their home country, more and more people will start to look elsewhere. People want a system that works, and they might be interested in some hands-on, real-life research. They can do this by visiting communist countries – voila, red tourism!
Who are red tourists?
Red tourists are essentially anyone engaging in red tourism activities. You can visit China and not be a red tourist, of course, if you are going and not explicitly paying attention to anything communism-related. Red tourists will actively engage in visiting and exploring museums, memorials, political bases, meeting sites and more. The Financial Express reported that 40% of tourists at red sites across China specifically are between the ages of 21 and 30. Especially recently, red tourists in China have been domestic tourists travelling within their home country. This is due to the impact of the pandemic – but people across the world have been known to visit China’s red tourism sites, as well as those in other countries.
It may come as no surprise that most red tourists are actually Chinese. The ease of domestic red tourism is one thing, but Chinese tourists also enjoy visiting sites in other parts of the world that link to their communist heritage.
The benefits of red tourism
There are many benefits of red tourism, hence the Chinese government’s involvement. It can be used to further the ideas of the Party which, if you are a communist, is a huge benefit. On the flip side of this, red tourism in former red countries – Soviet and Balkan states, for example – serve as a reminder of the horrors that have happened under communism. In this way it is an example of dark tourism. Both of these things are helpful to different people with different ideologies.
It obviously brings money to certain areas that might not see many visitors otherwise. Museums charging entry fees, for example, and people running tours – these are income streams that come directly from red tourism. China alone boasts a projected extra 20 billion yuan every year thanks to red tourism!
This type of tourism is of course a form of educational tourism. No matter which side of the argument you are on, there is no denying that visiting museums and places of historical and political interest is educational. This type of field-learning is great for college/university students to help advance their studies. However it is also brilliant for educating the average person who just wants to know a bit more about communism.
Criticisms of red tourism
Of course, there are many criticisms (in China specifically) from those who oppose communism. They point out that this type of tourism very much glorifies this ideology. People who are anti-communism tend to feel very strongly about this, which is why they criticise red tourism.
There are other people who view this negatively, too. Living members of the Red Army (the army and air force of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic/Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) have something to say too. They are opposed to the ‘Disneyfication’ of communist locations. These people see the popular sites as war memorials and say they should be respected as such.
Popular red tourism attractions
Of course, the most popular destinations for red tourism attractions is China. As a still-communist country, it has the most places of interest. Some of the most popular are listed below, as well as other areas where you can find interesting sites.
Red tourism in China spans the entire country. The 13 cities listed earlier are, of course, highly promoted within the industry. The 5 most popular locations are:
- Yan’an: Mao Zedong’s revolutionary base when the Red Army arrived at the end of 1935 following the Long March. It is considered somewhat of a ‘holy land’ for the communist party.
- Shaoshan: the hometown of Mao Zedong, a Chinese communist revolutionary. There are 82 individual red tourism spots here.
- Nanchang: capital of the Jiangxi Province, this is the site of the August 1 Nanchang Uprising of 1927, led by Zhou Enlai and He Long.
- Jinggang Mountain: not only is it beautiful, but this scenic mountain is actually home to 29 historical red tourism sites. These include the former residence of Mao Zedong as well as the first hospital for China’s Red Army, a revolution museum, and a battle site.
- Zunyi: this is the location of the Zunyi Conference, held in 1935 during the Long March. It was during this conference that Mao Zedong was first elected as the leader of the Communist Party of China.
Despite no longer being a communist country, Russia is very popular with red tourists. These are some popular locations/sites:
- The Moscow Kremlin (Russian political residence)
- Red Square (site of official military parades and demonstrations by Soviet armed forces)
- Gorki Leninskiye (Vladimir Lenin’s second home)
- State Museum of Political History of Russia
- Museum of Soviet Arcade Games (located in St. Petersburg)
- Muzeon Sculpture Park, Moscow
There are many, many ‘museums of communism’ located in former communist countries. These are a really accessible type of red tourism. Trips to China and Russia can be expensive, lengthy and difficult depending on where you’re coming from. But these museums provide a slice of communist tourism across Europe. There is a lot to see and take in, like games and cars from this time period as well as weapons and more. Below you’ll see a list of many of these museums.
- The Museum of Communism, Prague, Czech Republic
- Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, Vilnius, Lithuania
- House of Terror Museum, Budapest, Hungary
- The Warsaw Uprising Museum, Warsaw, Poland
- The Stasi Museum, Berlin Germany
- The Museum of Occupations, Tallinn, Estonia
- Museum of Soviet Vehicles, Järva-Jaani, Estonia
- The Corner House, Riga, Latvia
There are other sites that are key to red tourism. They exist worldwide, and may be home to monuments, museums or landmarks. Some of these include:
- The Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany
- Moncada Barracks, Santiago de Cuba
- Grutas sculpture Park, Druskininkai, Lithuania
- Memento Park, Budapest, Hungary
- Vinh, Nghe An, Vietnam
- Neon Museum, Warsaw, Poland
- Buzludhza, Bulgaria
- House of Flowers, Belgrade, Serbia
- Finca Birán, Cuba
- Cannon Fort, Vietnam
Red tourism- further reading
If you enjoyed this article then I am sure that you will love these too!
- Educational tourism: Everything you need to know
- Dark tourism explained: What, why and where
- Slum tourism: What is it and how does it work?