Visitors wearing VR headsets participate in a jubensha game during a high-tech expo in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, in October. (LIU ZHANKUN / CHINA NEWS SERVICE)

With sporadic cases of COVID-19 occurring in some regions of China, taking short trips to neighboring areas instead of long-haul trips has become a new trend for Chinese consumers. Some scenic spots have integrated more immersive entertainment experiences such as live action role-playing (LARP) games.

In the past year, LARP games have rapidly gained in popularity among young consumers in the country, fueling a multibillion-dollar business. The most popular is called jubensha-an LARP game usually involving murder mystery scripts.

Suzhou-based online travel agency Tongcheng-Elong recently cooperated with LARP Master to launch original LARP games at Tengwang Pavilion, a tourism attraction located in Nanchang, Jiangxi province.

Tongcheng-Elong has started recruiting people to take internal tests and actually experience the game at the scenic spot. The company hopes to launch the large-scale immersive experience soon, and players will dress in ancient costumes to experience the game.

"The lifestyle of young people nowadays is closely connected with the internet. With the trend of consumption upgrades, online interactions can no longer meet their demand, and more people would like to experience the scenes personally," said Shi Le, marketing head of the transportation ticketing business group at Tongcheng Travel.

"An increasing number of young consumers attach importance to offline social experiences. Experiencing immersive entertainment has become a new trend in the market," Shi said.

With the recovery of the domestic tourism market from COVID-19, new forms of entertainment have emerged and are being sought after by younger customers. Many young people would like to experience LARP games somewhere away from home and take trips.

In July, LARP Master completed a round of financing and received investments of more than $10 million. The company said it would use the funding to expand its physical stores, as well as train scriptwriters and hosts for the games.

This year, sales of China's LARP games sector are expected to reach 17 billion yuan ($2.66 billion), market information provider iiMedia said.

According to a report from the Meituan Research Institute, more than 40 percent of LARP game fans play at least once a week. Some players spend as much as 3,000 yuan per month on the games. More than 70 percent of gamers are under the age of 30.

In November 2020, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism issued a guideline, saying that China will support the integration of immersive entertainment operations with the public spaces in cities and some small towns.

The upcoming LARP games to be launched at Tengwang Pavilion will integrate the historical and cultural elements of the pavilion and invite a large number of consumers to experience it live, Tongcheng-Elong said.

At the pavilion, the game will restore the scenes of banquet living rooms, taverns and pawnshops, and integrate light shows and dance performances into the game to show scenes of the prosperous Tang Dynasty (618-907).

Tongcheng-Elong is also cooperating with Kunming Airlines to operate a new flight from Shanghai to Kunming, Yunnan province, on Thursday. During the flight, flight attendants will act as non-player characters and help warm up people for the launch of the game.

"Tengwang Pavilion embodies profound cultural heritage. The combination of LARP games with the pavilion is the integration of tradition and modern entertainment. The move is foreseen to help scenic spots to attract more attention from young people, and draw more people to take in-depth experiences of scenic spots, rather than simply sightseeing," Shi said.

In addition, specific themed hotels for LARP games in China have emerged, and they have been a result of diversified operations for the hotel sector. The business growth of such hotels is expected to fuel new opportunities for the further popularization of LARP games.