Domestic travel bounces back to pre-pandemic levels . . .
On Wednesday, China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism released official estimates of domestic travel during this year’s May Day extended holiday (May 1-5), also called the Labour Day Holiday. Tourists made a total of 230 million trips, a 120 per cent increase compared with the same period in 2020, when travel restrictions were still in place, and more than three per cent higher than the 2019 pre-pandemic level. In terms of tourism revenues, this year’s earnings for the industry totalled C$21.3 billion, up 138 per cent year-on-year, while still falling short of pre-pandemic revenues by 23 per cent.
Old questions resurface . . .
This year’s May Day holiday provoked heated discussions about the workday transfer scheme, running in China for about a decade. According to this scheme, workers have to work on the Sunday before and the Saturday after the holiday this year to compensate for their days off, to create a continuous five-day holiday. The actual effect such an arrangement would have on encouraging spending was called into question this year, however, because the slowing growth in disposable income for the middle- and lower-income groups may be making travel less affordable. As a separate issue, although a significant number of tourists chose to travel to “niche” destinations in the southwest and northwest regions this year, there was still major congestion on highways and at tourist attractions in Beijing, Shanghai, and Wuhan, posing challenges for the still-recovering tourism industry.
Preview of post-COVID travel . . .
The generally strong performance in China’s domestic travel market could present an example of what tourism recovery could look like elsewhere. Compared with China, where the pandemic is largely contained, the tourism industry in many other parts of the world is much less optimistic, with domestic travel and border restrictions still in place and plans for travel bubbles stifled by new surges in COVID cases. Such contrasts have prompted travel-related businesses outside of China to explore new ways to connect with Chinese customers and policy-makers worldwide to think about what to learn from the Chinese experience when global travel can be safely resumed.