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Short holidays and local tourism saved the day for Mid-Autumn Festival travel in China. Photo: EPA-EFE

China’s Covid-hit tourism market saved from Mid-Autumn Festival doldrums by short trips and local travel

  • Revenue over the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday was not drastically below pre-pandemic levels even amid official recommendations against travel, official data shows
  • While local tourism saved the day in big cities like Beijing, travel agencies, airlines and railway services that rely on longer trips did not fare as well
China travel

Short trips and local travel have mitigated losses in China‘s tourism market after fresh coronavirus outbreaks caused a flood of cancellations ahead of Mid-Autumn Festival holidays, as resilient travellers opted for trips closer to home instead of between provinces, new data shows.

Despite a Delta variant outbreak in Fujian province crushing many people’s travel plans just days before the three-day holiday began on September 19, turnover was not drastically below pre-pandemic numbers even amid official recommendations against travel.

Some 88.2 million travellers – about 87.2 per cent of the volume in the same period of 2019 – spent 37.1 billion yuan (US$5.7 billion) over the break, according to data from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Spending was about 78.6 per cent of the same period two years ago.

Data from online travel agency showed 56 per cent of the tours booked were short-distance trips. Online travel agency said bookings grew compared to the same period in 2019.

Beijing was a stand-out performer thanks to the newly-opened Universal Studios, as well as its concentration of internationally recognised cultural sites.

A total of 220 tourist sites, excluding the Universal theme park, handled more than 3 million visitors and created more than 285 million yuan in revenue, a 64.5 per cent increase on the 2019 holiday period, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Tourism and Culture said.

With residents unable to travel abroad or in many cases even out of the city, bed and breakfasts, known locally as Minsu, located in the Beijing suburbs were a popular getaway option.


Cao Qiang, who runs four bed and breakfasts in the capital, said they were all booked over the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday, as well as for the National Day holiday on Friday.

“They are more popular than before the pandemic,” said Cao. “But in the past, people would book three or four weeks in advance, now there are still rooms available one or two weeks before the holidays.”

Tourists visit Houhai Lake during Mid-Autumn Festival in Beijing. Photo: EPA-EFE

Elsewhere in the country, local tourism was also strong over the holiday period. Some 70 per cent of tourists in the scenic city of Hangzhou were from within Zhejiang province, while other travellers were mainly from adjacent provinces, according to the Hangzhou Culture and Tourism Development Centre.

An average tourist in Hangzhou spent 3,189 yuan (US$493) using payment cards during the holiday, a 10.7 per cent increase from the same period in 2019, official tourism data showed.

While local tourism saved the day in big cities, travel agencies, airlines and railway services that rely on longer trips did not fare as well.

Liu Jianbin, CEO of Shangchuanba, a premium travel agency, said the high-end travellers he caters for travelled “less than expected”, with only one of the three routes his company offered fully booked.

Chen Xia, the manager of a travel agency in Chongqing city, one of China’s most popular destinations for the Mid-Autumn Festival, said there were not many interprovincial travellers.


“It inevitably influenced our businesses,” she said.

During the five-day Labor Day holiday in May, domestic airports handled about 67,800 flights, with an average of 13,500 a day, according to flight data service Over the three-day Mid-Autumn holiday, only about 28,300 flights took off, fewer than 10,000 a day on average.

Some airlines had 30 per cent of their flights over the Mid-Autumn holiday cancelled, according to business publication


China Railway handled about 35 million passengers, with peak daily passenger numbers on September 19 still 30 per cent lower than the same time last year, and the lowest since 2017.