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Record tourist numbers since COVID-19 expected for China’s Labor Day, boosting hopes for domestic tourism recovery

The five-day holiday will be the first “mini peak season” this year, according to a report by Trip.com.

Chinese teenager with cell phone near Chinese lanterns. Source: Tuchong. Chinese teenager with cell phone near Chinese lanterns. Source: Tuchong.

China’s hard-hit tourism sector is poised for a gradual recovery and the upcoming Labor Day holiday is expected to see a record number of over 80 million tourists as people try to return to normality after the recent COVID-19 lockdowns.

The five-day holiday will be the first “mini peak season” this year, according to a Tuesday report by Trip.com Group, China’s largest online travel services provider. It expects double the number of travelers seen during the Ching Ming Festival earlier this month, which recorded 43 million tourists and 8 billion yuan (USD 1.1 billion) in tourism revenue, according to the China Tourism Academy.

Domestic travel, in particular intra-provincial and local trips, will be the preferred choice for most holidaymakers as restrictions are still in place for travel across provinces or to overseas destinations. Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Beijing are the top three destination for holidaymakers during the planned Labor Day break, according to the report by the Nasdaq-listed Trip.com, formerly known as Ctrip.com International.

Hotel bookings are emerging with “several hundred million yuan” in gross merchandise value, and 55% of bookings have been made with four- and five-star hotels as higher quality trips are in demand amid safety concerns, according to Trip.com.

A total of 4,000 attractions will be open for tourists during the May break, a record number since the pandemic, with Taiping National Forest Park in central China’s Xi’an city and the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall in Beijing among the most popular destinations based on the bookings on Trip.com.

The tourism industry in China has been one of the hardest-hit sectors by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in lockdowns and travel bans to prevent spread of the coronavirus. Back in February, online travel service providers like Trip.com were overloaded with customer booking changes, cancellations, and refunds.

According to estimates by Beijing-based consultancy Analysys, China’s national tourism economy lost at least 10 billion yuan a day on average during the outbreak.

In an interview last month, Trip.com’s chairman and CEO James Liang said, at its worst, 80% of domestic bookings were being cancelled.

Booking volume on its platform plunged to less than 20% of the level in previous years after the coronavirus outbreak erupted in China in late January, but has now rebounded to over 30% of normal levels in recent weeks for domestic travel bookings, according to the company.

“The beginning of 2020 has been challenging for the travel industry worldwide due to the coronavirus outbreak,” Liang said in a post-earnings conference call last month. “We are encouraged to see the successful containment in China. . . we expect a quick and strong recovery in domestic travel.”

Meanwhile, China’s airlines are poised for a bout of “revenge travelling” in coming weeks, as soaring reservations ahead of the annual Labor Day holiday helped them recover 40% of their traffic.

Regional carriers like Guizhou Airlines, Fuzhou Airlines, and China Eastern Airlines’ low-cost unit China United Airlines have added new routes around the country, according to an earlier report by CAAC News, a newspaper run by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). United has added 25 routes, eight of which depart from the new Daxing airport in the Chinese capital.

As China continues to bring the COVID-19 situation under control, local governments have also introduced support policies and cash coupons to encourage consumers to shop and travel more as an attempt to restart the economy.

This story was originally published in the South China Morning Post.