Travel agencies relieved as tourists make up for lost time

For the past New Year's Day holiday, a robust recovery took the tourism market by storm.


Travelers cycle by Erhai Lake in Dali, Southwest China's Yunnan province, on Aug 11. [Photo provided to China Daily]

January 11, 2023

BEIJING – People across the country hit the trail again, much to the relief of travel agencies, Yang Feiyue reports.

Zhang Guangqi indulged his wanderlust with a vengeance after he got back on his feet from a COVID-19 infection. The Beijing resident boarded a plane to Haikou, capital of South China’s Hainan province, on Dec 21, about a week after his full recovery.

“I just felt like I needed to get out of my apartment,” says Zhang.

He was assured that he wouldn’t catch the virus again, at least, in the near future, which convinced him to see other parts of the country.

After enjoying the sunlight, zoning out by the sea, soaking in the hot spring and savoring the distinctive local cuisine, Zhang went on with his journey, traveling to Guilin in South China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region and then Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province, in the southwest of the country, to experience what those places had to offer.

He wrapped up his journey at the end of last month, just in time to celebrate the New Year with his friends in Beijing.

“We had a nearly five-hour hotpot dinner at Haidilao restaurant to usher in the New Year, and caught up with one another face-to-face,” Zhang says. “Everything finally feels like it’s getting back to normal.”

Zhang is just one of many people whose wanderlust has been reignited by the relaxation of the country’s travel controls that were put in place to curb the spread of the pandemic.

For the past New Year’s Day holiday, a robust recovery took the tourism market by storm, as the major domestic online travel agency Group saw nearly 60 percent of its customers purchase cross-provincial trips during the holiday, as opposed to 40 percent in the same period last year.

A family spends a relaxing time at the beach in Sanya, South China’s Hainan province, on Jan 4. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Passenger traffic at the nation’s biggest airports, such as Beijing Capital International Airport and Shanghai Pudong International Airport, also rose by 20 percent year-on-year.

For the whole domestic tourism market, 52.71 million trips were made during the holiday, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. It represented a year-on-year increase of 0.44 percent and accounted for 43 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

Revenue generated during the holiday broke 26.52 billion yuan ($3.91 billion), up 4 percent year-on-year, the ministry reports.

Travelers were mostly from Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu in Sichuan province, and Guangzhou in Guangdong province.

Destinations offering a mild climate and frequent sunshine proved popular among the holiday travelers, most of whom decided to give themselves a treat after their COVID-19 recovery.

Flight bookings to those destinations, including Sanya, Hainan province; Zhuhai, Guangdong province; and Xishuangbanna and the Dali Bai autonomous prefecture, Yunnan province, all rose by more than 10 percent, according to the travel agency.

Those born after 1990 were the driving force of the tourism recovery, with trip bookings from that age group surging by 36 percent year-on-year, while those from family travelers rising by 41 percent.

“We received the first batch of tourists at the beginning of last month, and a considerable number of our guests chose to stay for as long as 30 days,” says Zhao Ming, a private tour operator in Sanya. “We can sense their eagerness to relax and have fun.”

Most of his clients placed orders without much planning, while some couldn’t wait to cash in the bargain deals they stocked up on during the Nov 11 Singles Day national online shopping carnival.

The island city has seen all its beach fun activities get back up and running.

“It is evident that more people are coming in groups,” Zhao says.

His company has recently reached potential customers through livestreaming platforms and acquired a good number of orders.

Zhao is confident about the upcoming Spring Festival holiday. “We have developed a number of excursion packages and look forward to leveraging online sales channels to bring in more guests,” he says.

Li Xin, a homestay business owner in Dali, has guest bookings lined up for weeks, with most orders coming from Beijing and Shanghai.

“Some of the guests have even booked rooms for their summer vacations, for fear of price hikes,” Li says.

Tourists play on the ice at Shichahai scenic area in Beijing on Dec 31. [Photo provided to China Daily]

His homestay features seven rooms offering lake views, and was under renovation between May and October.

“Although the going was rough, we’ve always believed tourism will bounce back and thrive,” Li says, adding that the renovation was necessary to cater to the rising demand of Chinese visitors and stay competitive.

To date, Li has received about 200 guest inquiries every day, and he has to recommend many guests to other homestays in the neighborhood.

“We remain confident in the future, and will open a second homestay in Dali this year,” Li says.

Beijing also saw its tourism and cultural activities bouncing back to pre-COVID-19 levels during the New Year holiday. Approximately 2.7 million people visited the city’s 151 key scenic spots over the holiday, reaching 86.4 percent of the number registered in the same period of 2019, according to the Beijing Bureau of Culture and Tourism.

The tourist attractions reported a total revenue of about 248 million yuan, up 44.5 percent from 2019, the bureau reports.

The number of cultural activities on offer also rose, compared with the same period a year ago. The city’s 75 theaters held 303 commercial performances during the holiday, roughly the same as the figure logged in 2019.

Zhang Meinan, the Beijing-based Cichang Comedy standup operator in Beijing, saw audience numbers suddenly spike and sold out 150 seats since the last week of December. He attributed the success to the public need to blow off steam after being cooped up at home for a long time due to the pandemic.

He’s thrilled about the quick recovery in the city’s performance market, noting that his company doesn’t plan to take a break and will continue offering standup comedy performance during Spring Festival.

Now that the country has scrapped the quarantine requirements for international arrivals and downgraded management of COVID-19 cases from Class A to Class B, Zhang Guangqi is motivated to head overseas during his next trip.

“I’ve seen some of my friends already book trips to Thailand and Singapore,” he says.

Outbound flight bookings surged by 145 percent year-on-year during the New Year holiday, while the figure has surpassed 260 percent for the Spring Festival holiday, according to Group.

Before the outbreak of the pandemic, Zhang Guangqi usually took at least two long-distance trips a year, including one to another country in Southeast Asia or Europe.

“I’m still checking out the tourism policies of destinations I have in mind and will make the bookings when the flight and hotel prices are favorable,” he says.

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