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China’s travel market is showing signs of recovery ahead of the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday. Photo: Bloomberg

China’s Covid-hit travel market shows signs of recovery as Mid-Autumn Festival bookings surge

  • Interprovincial tour bookings for the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival holiday have surged over the past two weeks, according to
  • But most travellers will be shunning long-distance trips for holidays closer to home, as the threat of Covid-related cancellations still lingers
China travel

Chinese are showing renewed enthusiasm to travel over the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival holiday, with tour bookings surging as restrictions on interprovincial movement begin to be lifted following containment of recent coronavirus outbreaks, data from shows.

The rise in bookings is expected to reinvigorate China’s domestic travel market, which was disrupted again over summer by new Delta variant clusters that resulted in lockdowns and transport restrictions across the country.

However, analysts and tour operators say most travellers will be eschewing long distance trips for holidays closer to home, as many are still hesitant following Covid-related cancellations in recent months.

Between August 23 and September 6, interprovincial tour bookings made on Group’s Ctrip platform increased by 365 per cent, while more niche private group tours grew by 550 per cent. The booking period coincided with a significant downturn in new coronavirus cases in China, which have fallen from triple digits in July and early August to double digits at the beginning of this month.

Beijing, which is home to a new Universal Studios, is the most popular destination for the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday, which runs for three days from September 19.

Ctrip bookings for the capital were eight times higher on Monday than two weeks ago and airfare prices were 20 per cent up this week compared to the same period last year. Bookings for tourist hotspots such as Hainan and Sichuan provinces also surged 323 per cent and 528 per cent respectively compared to two weeks ago.

Online travel agency estimates 800 million domestic travellers will hit the road during the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday.

Fang Zeqian, a tourism analyst with Group, said the positive travel trends could be viewed as a precursor to a major boom during the week-long Chinese National Day holiday in early October.

The only kind of travel that is excelling is short trips near metropolises
Guan Wenlu

Despite signs of recovery, long-distance travel is still in poor shape and shorter trips take up the lion’s share of the Mid-Autumn market, Guan Wenlu, COO of travel agency Dear Voyage said.

“As far as I know, all travel agencies that operate long-distance travel are not doing well with Mid-Autumn Festival bookings,” he said. “The only kind of travel that is excelling is short trips near metropolises, such as hotels two or three hours from Shenzhen or Shanghai.”

Travel between provinces is still discouraged or prohibited for employees of public institutions and state-owned enterprises.

Overall, China’s domestic market is still soft and people are still hesitant about travelling, said Chen Xia, the manager of a local travel agency in Chongqing city, which was the eighth most popular destination for the upcoming holiday, according to Group.

“The summer outbreaks have ended, but consumers have not recovered yet,” she said. “Consumers are used to worrying about uncontrollable factors and sudden changes during long distance travels. No one wants to spend money to suffer.

“The Mid-Autumn Festival is only three days long, people are mostly doing short-distance trips and they are likely to book hotels and tickets three to five days before a holiday.”

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the state-owned tabloid the Global Times, said in an opinion piece on Monday that China should “completely lift unnecessary travel restrictions and encourage full recovery of tourism” during the upcoming holiday season.

“It should be a new battle ground to perfect our dynamic zero-tolerance system,” Hu said.