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Why Chinese influencers are flocking to a Costco in Shanghai (and no, it’s not for the discounts)

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Why Chinese influencers are flocking to a Costco in Shanghai (and no, it’s not for the discounts)

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These photos, which are all the rage on Chinese social media, all have one thing in common: a large “Costco wholesale” logo prominently displayed in the background, often against a deep blue sky.

For almost two years, most Chinese have not been able to travel abroad, due to the strict and relentless restrictions at the country’s borders linked to Covid-19: flights abroad are limited, quarantine to the start of the school year is hard and long, and the Chinese authorities have stopped issuing or renewing passports for all but essential trips.

Still, some Chinese influencers have found creative ways to bring seemingly exotic scenes to their social media feeds – by snapping photos at places like the Costco Shanghai store.

On Xiaohongshu, a fashion and lifestyle app often referred to as China’s Instagram, users share tips on how to pose for photos in front of the big box store to make them look like they’re in Los Angeles. .

Pointers include wearing bright, casual clothes, carrying pizza and cola as props if you’re not a Costco member, and taking photos in the late afternoon when the colors look warmer and brighter. saturated.

Most users are frank that they’re not actually in LA and are just posing for fun – with phrases like “Pretending to be in LA” frequently cited in captions.

Other popular pandemic-era hashtags include “Pretend to be in Paris” and “Pretend to be in Tokyo”, with users posing in shopping streets, cafes or tea gardens. foreign style.

For many influencers, this is just another fun way to liven up their feeds. But the messages are also a painful and vivid reminder of how long China has been cut off from the world.

Before the pandemic struck, travel abroad had become a standard part of life for China’s growing middle class.

In 2019, mainland Chinese tourists made 155 million trips, with Macau, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Myanmar, and the United States being the top destinations.
China was also the world’s largest consumer of outbound tourism. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, Chinese tourists spent more than $ 254 billion overseas in 2019, nearly a fifth of global tourism spending.

At the height of the pandemic, global travel was halted as countries rushed to close borders and cancel international flights.

Today, a growing number of countries are opening up and learning to live with the virus after rolling out mass vaccinations. But China still keeps its borders tightly closed and doubles its zero Covid policy – in a bid to completely eradicate the virus from inside the country.

With overseas travel no longer viable, Chinese authorities have promoted domestic tourism as an alternative. China’s large size and rich diversity have worked to its advantage, but it remains to be seen how much longer Chinese citizens will be content to be cut off from the real LA, Paris or Tokyo.

And with the highly infectious Delta variant, even domestic travel can be risky.

The latest outbreak in China, which has infected more than 300 people in 12 provinces, is linked to a dozen tourist groups, according to health officials. Travel agencies have also been banned from organizing interprovincial tours to areas with high cases.

In the northwest of the country, hundreds of domestic tourists were trapped in Inner Mongolia and Gansu for days as authorities imposed strict containment measures to curb the spread of the virus.

In Ejin Banner, a region of Inner Mongolia, the local tourism board apologized by offering trapped tourists free entry to three popular attractions, redeemable within three years. But if they will be ready to return, that’s another story.

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