China’s travelers have thronged transportation networks as the nation embarks on an eight-day national holiday, marking the first October break since the conclusion of strict zero-Covid policies that separated families and severely impacted the tourism industry. Pre-booked international trips have surged, registering a staggering 20-fold increase compared to the same period last year, while domestic travel has surged more than fourfold, according to data from Trip.com, China’s largest online travel provider.
Last year, an array of measures, including mass coronavirus testing, health codes, inter-province quarantines, and mobility restrictions, made travel a formidable undertaking. However, Friday morning witnessed the Beijing South railway station bustling with passengers hauling luggage as they rushed to catch their trains.
In Shanghai’s cavernous Hongqiao train station, thousands of travelers bustled about, purchasing food and last-minute gifts for relatives, including live crabs from a stand near the main ticket counter. The adjacent international airport experienced a steady stream of passengers passing through security, with transportation workers noting that the preceding day had been even busier.
State media reported that Beijing’s two international airports are expected to handle approximately 2.3 million travelers during the holiday period, with airlines deploying larger aircraft and adding extra flights to meet demand. Nearly 13 million individuals were projected to visit the capital during the holiday, marking a 21.9 percent increase from the pre-Covid 2019 figures, as per state media.
On Friday, crowds flocked to Beijing’s Forbidden City to make the most of the sunny autumn morning, including many families.
Despite the holiday surge, China’s travel and tourism sector has not yet fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels, according to industry insiders. Nevertheless, they express confidence that a complete recovery is only a matter of time.
World Travel and Tourism Council chief Julia Simpson stated, “Originally, we thought it could all happen by the end of this year or the beginning of next… (But) I think we’re probably talking about the next two to three years for it to be completely back.” She pointed to visa delays for Chinese nationals and limited flight availability as key factors behind the slower-than-expected rebound of outbound travel from China.
Nonetheless, the WTTC predicts that China will surpass the United States as the world’s largest global travel market within the next 10 years. Simpson emphasized strong political will from the Chinese government to foster the sector’s growth, stating, “Like turning a tap back on after a period when it’s been very firmly closed, it takes a bit of time, but there’s a great will for tourism to be successful both in and out of China.”
Trip.com‘s pre-holiday data indicates that Chinese travelers are now more willing to pay for “in-depth experiences and high-quality services” and have become more adventurous in their choice of destinations. The company’s CEO, Jane Sun, expressed confidence that this trend would continue to evolve, stating, “Chinese people are taught by Confucius that it is better to travel 10,000 miles than to read 10,000 books. So it is in our genes to use travel as a means to explore the world.”
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