Chinese travel less, spend less during Golden Week holidays

Some 515 million trips were made during the holiday season, the culture and tourism ministry said, a 1.5 per cent decline from the previous year. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - Junior doctor Li Shuduan, 26, spent most of her Golden Week holidays or five days at home in Beijing.

Amid sporadic Covid-19 outbreaks across the country, employers and schools have discouraged staff from travelling. Those who leave their provinces would have to stay home for two weeks, on top of testing to prove that they are virus-free.

"I wanted to go to some of the nearby nature parks but because of the weather, my friends and I chose to meet in cafes or stay home instead," said Ms Li, referring to the persistent icy rain that drenched the city for most of the holiday period marking China's National Day.

Lasting from Oct 1 to 7, it is usually one of the country's busiest travel periods and an indication of consumer demand.

But domestic tourism revenue took a hit this year with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism saying on Thursday (Oct 7), the last day of the holiday, that it totalled 389.06 billion yuan (S$81.8 billion).

The figure was about 5 per cent less than last year although 2020 marked a rebound as the pandemic was largely brought under control. Overall, domestic tourism revenues are still languishing, dropping by about 40 per cent from pre-Covid days.

"The spend weakness was attributable to the relatively soft prices of travel products and a shift toward short-haul trips," Citi wrote in a note to clients.

"The recovery of consumption has been sluggish post the pandemic, and the road ahead may still be bumpy, given lingering public health risks."

A large-scale outbreak during the summer holidays linked to the Delta variant has largely been brought under control, but there are still sporadic cases in Fujian province and the northern city of Harbin.

During the Golden Week holiday, parts of Xinjiang province were also put under lockdown with travellers unable to leave after several asymptomatic cases were discovered.

The uncertainty linked with travel - day tripping Beijingers were stopped from re-entering the city during the summer outbreak - led people to opt for shorter trips or staying home.

Some 515 million trips were made during the holiday season, the culture and tourism ministry said, a 1.5 per cent decline from the previous year. But it was a 30 per cent drop when compared to pre-Covid figures.

Flight bookings for the majority of cities popular with tourists were lower than a year earlier, China's aviation regulator said, with air passenger traffic falling 19.6 per cent from last year.

But there has been a rise in themed holidays, said booking platform, with "Red holidays" especially popular.

Data showed a nearly one-third increase in tourists choosing to visit sites linked to the Communist Party of China which is celebrating its centenary year.

Members of a military orchestra at Tiananmen Square, in Beijing, on the eve of the National Day, on Sept 30, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Yan'an in Shaanxi where the Long March ended; Changsha in Hunan, a city closely associated with Chairman Mao Zedong; and Beijing, where Chairman Mao declared the founding of the People's Republic of China at the balcony overlooking Tiananmen Square were popular destinations.

China's zero tolerance approach to Covid-19 - anyone entering the country must serve between 14 to 28 days of quarantine - and limited reopening to outsiders is starting to take an economic toll, with the sluggish holiday spending another indication of consumer sentiment.

Already growth forecasts for China's economy have been lowered for this year.

Third-quarter figures for gross domestic product are set to be released on Oct 18, along with last month's retail sales figures.

Like Dr Li, most Chinese, who are stuck within the country's borders, are doing the best they can and are trying to get on with their daily lives.

"I've just started a new job so ordinarily I probably wouldn't be allowed to go on long holidays anyway," said Dr Li, who has just started work in a Beijing hospital.

"But not even being able to take a short trip overseas such as to Thailand, it's getting tiring."

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