Chinese tourists spending New Year close to home

Tourists looking at ice sculptures ahead of the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival in Harbin, in north-eastern China's Heilongjiang province, on Dec 24. Recent Covid-19 cases in Beijing and northern China have rekindled public concern, alread
Tourists looking at ice sculptures ahead of the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival in Harbin, in north-eastern China's Heilongjiang province, on Dec 24. Recent Covid-19 cases in Beijing and northern China have rekindled public concern, already shaken by calls to avoid non-essential travel during the festive season. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIJING • Chinese tourists, millions of whom have shunned overseas travel because of the coronavirus pandemic, are limiting their journeys further to nearby cities and avoiding leaving their provinces.

Recent Covid-19 cases in Beijing and northern China have rekindled public concern, already shaken by calls to avoid non-essential travel during the festive season between tomorrow and the start of Chinese New Year in mid-February. Millions of domestic tourists typically travel in the week before and after Jan 1.

Hotel bookings for the three-day New Year weekend had reached 1.8 times of bookings a year earlier as at Dec 24, but most people were not travelling far, though plane tickets were nearly 20 per cent cheaper on average, Beijing-based online travel platform Qunar.com said.

"The trend is to take a train to visit cities within the reach of one hour," the company said, adding that the hottest train tickets are for trips between Chengdu and Chongqing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and Shanghai and Hangzhou.

Around 34 million people will travel by train between today and Sunday, or 8.5 million people per day, down 6.9 per cent from a year earlier, a China Railway official told reporters yesterday.

Ms Huang Li, a white-collar worker in Beijing, said she decided against going to Sanya in Hainan province after the government told people to avoid unnecessary travel.

"I'm not sure if my son would be allowed to attend classes in his kindergarten if we leave Beijing," said Ms Huang, 40. "Too many uncertainties."

The Chinese capital has cancelled large-scale events and ordered travel agencies not to sell packages for the city during the New Year and Chinese New Year holidays.

Other cities have followed suit.

Shenzhen and Dalian have told residents not to leave "unless necessary". In Hubei province, where the pandemic began, locals were told to stay indoors and cap family gatherings at 10 people.

Ms Zhou Weihong, deputy general manager at Spring Tour, the travel arm of Shanghai-based Spring Group, said her agency had developed offerings aimed at local tourism.

"Around Shanghai, there are many splendid things people can do, and there are great hotels and hot springs," Ms Zhou said.

But not all travellers are cancelling longer trips. Beijing resident Cai Dong, 34, and his wife are flying to Sanya this week. "It isn't worth ruining my planned holiday just because of a handful of cases," Mr Cai said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2020, with the headline 'Chinese tourists spending New Year close to home'. Subscribe