Chinese tourists looking longingly at holidays as coronavirus crisis eases

A tourist fixes her mask at a night market in Bangkok on March 2, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The willingness among Chinese to travel to popular tourist sites has shown signs of recovery, particularly for the upcoming holidays in late spring and early summer, as the coronavirus epidemic continues to abate domestically, according to industry experts.

Data from Fliggy, Alibaba's online travel service provider, show a recovery in travel plans for the upcoming Tomb Sweeping Day holiday that is scheduled to take place from April 4 to 6.

From March 17 to 23, bookings for train tickets and scenic areas surged by over 100 per cent and hotel reservations rose by roughly 30 per cent compared with the previous week.

Most train bookings are for inter-provincial travel.

Due to contagion restrictions, massive cancellations and delays of travel reservations took place during the Spring Festival holiday - the peak season for tourism in the country.

But as the Tomb Sweeping holiday approaches, recoveries of tourism sectors in Shanghai, Chengdu, Sichuan province, Hangzhou, Zhejiang province and Shenzhen and Guangzhou in Guangdong province, are most visible, Fliggy said.

Currently, 3,700 A-level tourist sites have resumed operations nationwide.

If the tourist sector recovery during the upcoming Tomb Sweeping holiday is not substantial enough, industry research suggests the desire to travel during the Labour Day holiday - which has been extended to five days (May 1-5) this year - will be even stronger.

According to Tongcheng-Elong, a major online travel platform, a surge in interest to visit popular tourist sites was seen based on searches for air tickets, train tickets, accommodations and scenic spot tickets during the holiday in early May.

"If the situation of the domestic epidemic continues to improve, the public holiday in May will become the first tourism peak since the beginning of 2020," according to the report by Tongcheng-Elong.

Holiday plan searches, conducted between March 12 and 18, for May holiday flights rose 80 per cent over the previous week.

The searched destinations are mostly cities that were spared the brunt of the viral outbreak.

Train tickets to Urumqi, the Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region, increased 100 per cent year on year for the May Day holiday.

Other popular searches concerned information on flights to Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Beijing.

Meanwhile, according to a survey by Tongcheng-Elong, 70.8 per cent of hotels on the Chinese mainland have resumed operations as of March 22, up more than 50 percentage points from the levels on Feb 10.

Searches for hotel bookings on April 30 surged over levels seen on March 12, with search results peaking for May 1. Major searched destinations were Guangdong, Sichuan, Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces as well as the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

Lower-tier cites have seen more positive recovery of their hotel business than first- and second-tier cities, and southern cities are faring better than those in the north, according to the results.

At present, tourism departments in places including Shanghai as well as Zhejiang and Jiangxi provinces show that all tourism-related businesses have resumed local operations.

Tourism in Sanya, Hainan province, has recovered quickly.

On March 23, Mr Liang Jianzhang, chairman of - the country's leading online travel platform - held a livestreaming event during which 6,710 reservations for Atlantis Sanya - a landmark resort in the coastal city - were made in one hour, worth about 10 million yuan (S$2.01 million). The reservations included accommodations and tickets to the resort's entertainment facilities.

Mr Heiko Schreiner, manager director of Atlantis Sanya has seen rising confidence and strong demand among consumers to travel, as the prevention and control measures of the coronavirus outbreak have shown significant progress.

The upcoming two holidays will bring good opportunities to the travel sector in Hainan, Mr Schreiner said.

"The resort continues strengthening its epidemic prevention efforts and prioritising the safety and health of guests and employees," he added.

Still, it takes time for the hospitality sector to recover to its former vitality. The occupancy rate of hotels nationwide has grown from less than 10 per cent at the end of February to 25 per cent on March 21, according to hospitality tracking firm STR.

Tongcheng-Elong has warned that tourists should continue to take precautionary measures during their travels.

China Tourism Academy researcher Yang Yanfeng said there will be a shift in the structure of chosen destinations during the coming travel season in late spring and early summer.

"More trips will be made to nearby villages, along with short trips between cities and suburbs."

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