Fresh coronavirus fears dim China’s tourism recovery hopes

Hordes of Chinese tourists are avoiding long-distance holiday trips and scaling back domestic travel plans as fresh coronavirus cases in Beijing and northern China spark travel concern

Fresh coronavirus fears dim China’s tourism recovery hopes
Chinese tourists are visiting nearby cities and avoiding trips out of their provinces. Photo: Reuters

(ATF) Millions of Chinese tourists who were already scrapping holiday travel abroad this year because of the global pandemic, are restricting domestic travel too as new cases of the coronavirus in Beijing and northern China have rekindled public concern.

Chinese tourists, reported Reuters today, are scaling back their journeys by visiting nearby cities and avoiding trips out of their provinces, that is further dimming hopes of a quick revival of China’s domestic tourism sector, an important domestic demand driver.

While hotel bookings for the upcoming three-day New Year weekend had reached 1.8 times of bookings a year earlier as of Dec. 24, plane tickets were nearly 20% cheaper on average, with many people not travelling far, Beijing-based online travel platform Qunar.com said.

“The trend is taking a train to visit cities within the reach of one hour,” the company said.

Millions of domestic tourists travel in the week before and after Jan. 1 in a typical year.

The hottest train tickets are for trips between Chengdu and Chongqing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and Shanghai and Hangzhou, according to Qunar.com.

Key to China’s recovery

Domestic travel has become an essential contributor to China's domestic economy that contributed more than 11% to China’s economy in 2019 according to hospitality market analyst, the STR Group.

The number of domestic trips reached six billion in 2019, indicating an exponential increase compared to the number of trips made in China ten years ago.

During the Labor Day holiday period of May 1 to May 5 this year, that was a litmus test for its strict and swift pandemic control, China recorded 115 million tourist trips, raking in tourism revenue of 47.56 billion yuan ($6.79 billion), according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

The government revealed more than 637 million people travelled within the country during that national holiday.

That was almost a 60% slump from the 117.67 billion yuan recorded in the previous year’s Labor Day holiday, which was one day shorter and ran from May 1 to May 4, according to figures disclosed by the ministry. That year, the country logged 195 million trips.

Yet, that number marked a big increase from the 43 million trips over the three-day Qingming holiday a month earlier, suggesting that the government’s epidemic controls to curb its spread had largely worked.

Now though, it appears that China still has a long way to go to recover economically from the epidemic.

Already, the China Tourism Academy is predicting that domestic tourism revenue could fall by 52% to 2.76 trillion yuan ($394 billion) in 2020, as the industry continues to reel from the impact of the crisis.

Restrictions creeping back

According to Reuters, state governments have started issuing travel warnings as well

This week, for instance, the government in southern island of Hainan told its residents to avoid unnecessary travel.

The Chinese capital Beijing too has cancelled large-scale events, including the 2021 Beijing Book Fair, and ordered travel agencies not to sell packages for the city during the New Year and Lunar New Year holidays.

Many other cities have followed suit.

Shenzhen and Dalian have told residents not to leave “unless necessary”, while businesses have been ordered not to organise gatherings.

In central Hubei province, where the pandemic first began, locals were told to stay indoors and cap family gatherings at 10 people.

But those warnings are also a reason to keep China's tourism revival hopes alive; going forward.

With the pandemic gradually being contained across the globe, we will possibly see a positive trend in China's cross-border tourism in the coming months, said Chen Jiahe, chief investment officer at Novem Arcae Technologies, in a comment to China Daily.

  • Reporting by Reuters

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