Aranya is an escape from the city turmoil for Chinese middle-class Millennials

Aranya is a pioneer of cultural and tourism real estate projects in China. The brand has cultural tourism development projects in Beidaihe, Jinshanling, Wulingshan and Sanya. However, by the time Aranya was built in 2013, the Chinese government was already starting to crack down on the real estate bubble. Back then, Aranya was regarded as a “failed” asset, and it was expected to turn into a huge “white elephant”. Nevertheless, by meeting the spiritual needs of young Chinese urbanites and adopting the right marketing strategy, the project took off after 2015. Indeed, in Aranya, housing prices soared to more than 25,000 RMB per square meter at their peak.

Meeting the spiritual needs of Chinese young urbanites

The core strategy of Aranya consists in selling an ideal life to Chinese middle class. Aranya does not consider itself just as a house seller, but rather as a lifestyle brand, which seeks to build a future-oriented pioneer community on the seaside, to explore the possibilities of a better life for the Chinese people. Its brand name also reflects that: Aranya, from the Sanskrit word Aranjou, originally means “the place of silence in the world, the place where one finds one’s identity.” Once material needs are satisfied, people yearn for spiritual and psychological self-realization. As a lifestyle brand with both an emotional and spiritual value, Anaya constantly explores the possibility of building a meaningful life for its customers. This is what makes Anaya greatly different from other property projects in the traditional sense.

By following this core strategy, in five years of operation Aranya shifted from selling houses to selling services, from selling services to selling lifestyle, from selling lifestyle to selling values, and its once abandoned buildings have become a popular “resort”. According to Travel Daily, the sales of Aranya property increased to 3 billion RMB in 2017, and the selling price is four times higher than that of its neighbors. Aranya successfully created a great lifestyle brand and made itself a pioneer of cultural and tourism real estate projects.

Aranya’s motto “Life can be more beautiful”
Source: Aranya official website, Aranya’s motto “Life can be more beautiful”

Aranya in China targets middle-class customers in higher tier cities

This core strategy has become so successful because it closely connects with target customers. Aranya has been able to meet the psychological needs of Beijing’s new middle class aged between 25 and 35 years old. Although Beijing is full of job opportunities for Chinese middle-class Millennials, they feel doomed to live a lonely life in such a huge and competitive city. Therefore, they are thirsty for emotional connection and eager to give meaning to their lives.

Moreover, young Chinese consumers crave for new experiences. On weekdays, they have no other choice but to stay in big city and live a city life. Thus, Aranya, immersed in China’s peaceful coastal landscape, is like a breath of fresh air for them and becomes their first choice during holidays, especially on summer vacations, when people have more free time.

search index for “Aranya”
Source: Baidu Index, The search index for “Aranya” is much higher in summer than during any other seasons

Spiritual architectural design

However, Aranya is not just attractive because of its natural beauty, but also because it has successfully turned natural resources into unique products and services. Its architectural design makes Aranya a unique place, and the Lonely Library is probably its most important landmark. The minimalistic interior design of this library perfectly blends with the endless sea. It is the only building on the entire coastline. This makes it look really lonely, hence its name. After the video of the Lonely Library was posted online, its connotation of “loneliness” attracted the curiosity and attention of many young people, thereby converting Aranya into a hot travel destination overnight.

Anaya ranked first among China’s new islands in terms of tourist visits
Anaya Qinhuangdao ranked first among China's new islands in terms of tourist visits
Source: Dianping.com, Anaya ranked first among China’s new islands in terms of tourist visits

Founder Ma Yin believes that all future buildings in Anaya should be like this, and they should embody the concept of “poetic architecture”: “the noble characteristics expressed by poetry go beyond material, direct to emotional and spiritual needs, and tend to the category of art, which is fundamentally different from the design products of traditional building construction.”

Since then, Ma Yin has built a series of spiritual landmarks such as Aranya Community Hall, Aranya Art Center and Dune Art Gallery on the beach, and linked them together with a slow track on the beach.

Aranya’s lonely library
Source: Aranya official website, Aranya’s lonely library

Building a tight social fabric

In Aranya, there are hundreds of associations, thousands of events. There are drama groups, running groups, equestrian groups, folk art groups, poetry groups, kite surfing groups, etc. Of the 1,500 events in Anaya, as many as half are self-organized by residents themselves. To provide better services, Founder Ma Yin made his email account public and invited anyone to write to him with feedback.

Furthermore, Anaya managed to rebuild neighborly relationships: all the social issues in the community can be openly discussed and properly resolved. Relationships between people become open and transparent, thus breaking down communication barriers characterizing big cities.

The secrets behind Aranya’s successful marketing strategy

Integration of online and offline channels

Aranya is present on the most popular Chinese social media platforms including Weibo and WeChat Channels.  In 2015, Ma Yin worked with Yitiao to shoot a video titled “The Loneliest Library in China,” which was viewed 600 million times online, due to the library’s artistic beauty and evocative power. Furthermore, Aranya boasts about 60,000 followers on Weibo, and its videos have been viewed approximately 2.173 million times as of 7th October 2022.

There are over 140,000 notes related to ” Aranya ” on Little Red Book, including travel guides, accommodation solutions and recommended not-to-be-missed destinations.

Source: Aranya’s official Weibo, Aranya boasts about 60,000 followers on Weibo

Partnerships with Chinese celebrities and KOLs

In Aranya, there are many music festivals, ranging from classic to pop, and every festival hosts Chinese celebrities in the field. For instance, on Sept 2, 2022, Singer Li Jian’s (Chinese singer) online concert “Yearning” was held at Anaya Valley Music Hall, attracting more than 30 million viewers and it was liked more than 100 million times on WeChat Channels.

There are also theaters and festivals in Aranya, which bring huge attention to this seaside destination. For instance, during the 2021 Anaya Theater Festival co-hosted by Meng Jinghui (Chinese actor), Zhang Ziyi (Chinese actress) among others, online search volume for “Aranya” on Baidu peaked, thereby leading to a twofold increase compared to the year before same period.

 searching frequency for “Aranya”
Source: Baidu Index, searching frequency for “Aranya” reached its peak in the summer of 2021

Collaborations with well-known fashion brands

Partnerships with fashion brands also enhanced Aranya’s popularity. Lately, a series of recent events have put Aranya on the fashion map. Italian luxury brand Valentino landed in Aranya on Sept 22 to kick off its Autumn/Winter 2022-2023 Pink PP collection. Aranya Qinhuangdao has become the only venue in China to host Valentino series events.

Not long ago, another luxury brand, Louis Vuitton, held its Spring/summer 2023 menswear show here on September 16. It was not the first collaboration between Louis Vuitton and Aranya, since the French maison had already participated to the Aranya Theater Festival and Wave Film Week. Excluding Shanghai, the Qinghuangdao resort is the only place in China where Louis Vuitton has held a men’s fashion show so far. All these fashion events have brought a lot of hype for Aranya.

Valentino Brand Ambassador Guan Xiaotong
Source: Weibo, Valentino Brand Ambassador Guan Xiaotong (Chinese actress) appeared at the Aranya Pink Coast event

COVID-19 impact on Aranya in China

However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, offline activities are sharply reduced, and travel is restricted in China, thus Aranya’s popularity is gradually fading. Nowadays, the cultural and tourism real estate industry in China has entered a stage of low growth and quality-enhancing development, as shown in the figure below. Facing this changing situation, Aranya must change its developing strategy too, focusing more on quality rather than on quantity.

cultural and tourism real estate industry in China has entered a stage of low growth
Source: CRIC Cultural Tourism real estate data system, the cultural and tourism real estate industry in China has entered a stage of low growth

What we can learn from the success of Aranya in China:

  • Aranya has focused on the spiritual need of middle-class customers in higher tier cities, established deep emotional connection with them through its peculiar design and generating a strong sense of belonging.
  • The success of Aranya is also based on their various marketing methods adopted. By collaborating with celebrities and brands, Aranya created buzz on social media and attracted many tourists.
  • However, as the cultural and tourism real estate industry in China enters a stage of low growth, Aranya is likely going to change its developing strategy.

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