Spring break brings China a post-COVID travel boom and a boost to its shaky economic recovery

Tokyo — Something is happening in China that was unimaginable just a year ago. With Coronavirus With lockdowns and travel restrictions behind them, hundreds of millions of Chinese are flocking to tourist spots across the country.

China’s spring break, centered around the May Day holiday on the first of the month, lasts five days and begins on April 29. The China Tourism Academy forecast that more than 240 million passenger trips would be made in that five-day period this year, even before the pandemic.

On the first day, travel increased by 151.8% compared to the same day last year, with tickets to popular attractions such as the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China near the Chinese capital and Shanghai Disney all selling out. Both airports in Beijing saw record numbers of passengers on Saturday.

Tourists visit the Qiansimen-Jialing River Bridge during the May Day holiday, May 1, 2023, in Chongqing, China.

He Penglei/China News Service/VCG/Getty

Hotspots and resorts that looked like ghost towns just a few months ago have come fully back to life, with some even being forced to post online notices warning holidaymakers to look elsewhere as they had reached capacity.

China’s tourism industry has not missed the opportunity to take advantage of this. Official media reported that a resort in southwest China charged 16 times the normal rate on April 30 as demand surged. Airfares are also up an estimated 39% from 2019 before COVID struck and the country went into lockdown.

It’s a much-needed windfall for an increasingly important sector of China’s mammoth economy. Three of China’s biggest airlines have collectively lost nearly $3 billion over the three years of travel restrictions, according to a Chinese financial news agency.

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The Chinese economy’s recovery from COVID has been shaky, so the boost from tourism will be more than welcomed by both industry and government. New data showed an unexpected drop in factory activity last month as global demand for China’s exports weakened.

However, China’s Commerce Ministry said major retail and hospitality companies saw sales grow 21% year-on-year on the first day of the “Golden Week” holiday. Many are thanking a trend dubbed “revenge spending” as people with suppressed hunger for shopping and travel have been trying to catch up since the tough regulations The “zero COVID” policy was abandoned last winter.

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However, the Chinese crowds are not yet flocking to overseas destinations. Only 10% of Chinese travelers have booked outbound trips this year, according to new data. While domestic traffic has recovered to pre-COVID levels, the number of international flights leaving China is still only about an eighth of 2019 numbers.

The study points to ongoing safety concerns among Chinese travelers to explain this delay, rather than cost or availability.

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