Airlines lead charge, as travel sector tears up the record books

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 March, 1994, 12:00am

THE travel industry in China, like other segments of the economy, is rewriting the record books.

Its main airlines are now almost the same size as Cathay Pacific, and China Southern may have passed Cathay in 1993, although the growth rate of the Chinese airline fell.

The number of visitors to China is about the fifth largest in the region, and the largest if all travel from Hong Kong is counted. However, because cross-border movements are considered quasi-domestic travel, they are not included in all counts for China.

The country's total of outbound travellers is also about the fifth largest in Asia, and some forecasters believe it could become the largest in the region by 2000.

China's hotel business, which was a disaster only three years ago, is now without question the fastest-growing in Asia Pacific.

Hotel occupancies have moved from very bad to very good at a pace that even Hong Kong might not be able to match.

However, only Shanghai looks likely to match Hong Kong's stunning occupancy levels this year.

In the slowest month for Hong Kong hotels in 1993, the occupancy percentage was still in the high-70s. Shanghai's was in low 50s in its lowest month, but Beijing hardly touched the 40s.

There also has been a growth in the number of travel agencies in China.

There were about 170 looking after overseas visitors by mid-1989, about 185 at the end of the year and the number is expected to reach 200 in the first half of this year.

Travel agencies licensed to look after domestic travellers grew from around 1,750 at the end of 1992 to 2500 at the end of last year.

But perhaps the biggest growth has been in one aspect of the travel business about which little is recorded - domestic travel.

The number of tours sold within China is believed to have increased between 30 and 40 per cent last year, making about 30 million travellers - in some measures that would make it the world's largest tour-package business.

Another indication of the size is the domestic travel fair held in Guangzhou in December when about 3000 travel companies promoted their services to 'buyers' - usually travel agencies.

Some statistics indicate the increase in exhibitors was as much as 80 per cent making it comparable with the world's largest travel exhibition - ITB in Berlin each March- which attracted 4605 exhibitors last year.

The Movenpick hotel in Beijing has struggled more than many hotels in the capital since June 1989 because of its location - close to the airport but away from the city.

As business has improved in the city, so has it for the Movenpick, which now it hopes the opening of the airport-city expressway will mean more business travellers using the hotel.

The hotel also has a special corporate rate at US$55, and a frequent-guest programme. Contact Movenpick reservations, phone 815-3236. The Holiday Inn Lido in Beijing is also making changes. Half of its 1000 rooms are being renovated, and one floor of 80 rooms is being converted into an executive floor with lounge, check-in facilities and all the other trimmings Completion is due by April. Contact Holiday Inn reservations, phone 736-6855, or fax 735 2808.

And the last of the winter discounts. The Jianguo is running its winter package until the end of March. Cost is US$115 per room, breakfast, free use of fitness centre, and some other small extras. Contact Swiss-Belhotel, phone 522-7003, or fax 840-1644.

The number of visitors to the two main tourist parks in Shenzhen - Splendid China and China Folk Culture Villages - may have dropped in 1993.

The majority owners, China Travel Service in Hong Kong, has not released traffic figures, but financial totals indicate ticket sales could have dropped five per cent in the first half.

A new report of China's outbound market says there was a collapse in the market in 1993.

According to the 125-page China Outbound Travel report, regulations introduced in China in August reduced the number of travellers who were going overseas. Although many of these were nominally official business trips, the itineraries were primarily leisure based.

Most travel was to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Thailand. However, the report, Travel Business Analyst said that ''even with the slow down of this market since last summer, it is still sizeable. And, of course, it has tremendous potential''.

There also was a large increase is the three main destinations for travel from China - because of the spectacular growth in the first part of the year.

The number of travellers from China into Hong Kong grew 51 per cent in 1993, into Singapore about 170 per cent, and into Thailand 100 per cent.