China tourism pins hope on National Day holiday

With tourism across the world hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, China’s tourism industry hopes to see a boost in their domestic travel during the National Day holiday, or so-called the golden week.

Following the easing of the coronavirus situation in mainland China, the country's tourism industry slowly gets back on its feet. The government has gradually relaxed domestic travel restrictions over the past few months, lifting scenic spots' carrying capacity cap to 50% from 30%. In order to cope with the “golden week” holiday, The Ministry of Culture and Tourism further lifted the cap to 75%.

In last year’s golden week, more than seven million Chinese went for international trips. This year, amid the global threats of COVID-19, China’s international travel sector has come to a halt since January as Chinese people prefer to stay in their country. So, going on domestic trips might be a choice for them.

Based on the latest data, domestic tourists reached 97 million on the first day of this year’s gold week holiday, down 26% from the same day last year with spending at 76.7 billion yuan or 31% lower than last year, Xinhua News Agency said.

This year’s National Day holiday coincident with Mid-Autumn Festival, extending the seven-day golden week holiday to 8 days, from October 1 to 8.

Famous scenic spot Taishan Mountain, also known as one of the “Five Sacred Mountains”, can accommodate a maximum of 58,000 people per day, equating to 50% of its pre-COVID capacity.

Most tourists go mask-free while climbing the mountain.

Signs of gradual recovery

China's battered tourism sector further shows signs of recovery after the Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced the resume of trans-provincial travel on July 14, during students' summer vacation.

Since then, more than 4,000 travel agencies have published their new domestic travel products, which doubled the number before the travel relaxation in July, according to Trip.com Group, one of the largest online travel agencies in mainland China.

The past summer holiday has shown a gradual recovery in domestic tourism. According to the data released on China Railway's website, about 456 million people travel by train during the two-month summer vacation. In August, the number of travellers reached 248.64 million, with an increase of 41.27 million, compared to the previous month. However, it was still down 34.4% year-on-year.

A hotel located near Taishan Mountain called The Five Star Hotel also saw a return on its business. "Our occupancy rate has recovered to 80% year-on-year by the end of August," said Zhang Na, 22, a receptionist of the hotel.

The Five Star Hotel now needs to complete the disinfection for each room after people check out.

A 48-year-old travel lover Zhao Haiying, one of the interprovincial tourists after the directive was issued, visited Taishan Mountain in September.

"Usually, the only scenic view you can see is just people's heads," said Mr Zhao as he climbed Taishan Mountain. He has travelled to this popular tourist destination for six times. "Now, you can enjoy the spectacular scenery here," he said, pointing to the many fewer tourists there.

To obtain the entrance permission, Mr Zhao requires to fill his health information through the WeChat mini program. 

For the National Day holiday, Mr Zhao plans to travel to Jinan, the capital of Shandong province. "I'm on a budget, and it's not far away from Taishan Mountain. The next eight-day vacation is perfect for a road trip there," he said.

Along with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism's announcement of lifting carrying capacity of scenic spots to 75%, there are also many promotions in the market, encouraging people to go out and stimulate travel consumption amid an economic downturn. Official data showed the tourism sector accounted for 11.05% of the country's GDP last year.

Alibaba Group's online travel arm Fliggy launched a 10 billion yuan (HK$11.35 billion) subsidy program last month, covering hotels, transportation, and tourist sites for the holiday. The subsidy will make some popular scenic spot ticket prices lower. For example, people will only need to pay 199 yuan (HK$226) for the Shanghai Disneyland ticket down from an original price of 399 yuan (HK$453) for a 1-day ticket.

Tourism attractions nationwide also promote their discounted entrance tickets. All Chinese health workers can visit more than 1000 scenic spots free of charge, including Taishan Mountain.

Uncertainty remains

Zhang Na, 50, the general manager of Zhengzhou Dongfang travel agency, said the industry has high expectations for the National Day holiday, hoping to see a considerable surge in travelling.

"Although the travel ban is lifting, we still don't have enough customers," she said.

Because of lacking customers, some travel agencies remain closed. Ms Zhang has worked from home since the outbreak of coronavirus.

The Zhengzhou Dongfang travel agency is mainly focused on domestic travel and inbound travel, targeting both independent tourists and business trips organised by companies. Interprovincial travel is the core business of her agency.

According to Report on China's Domestic Tourism Development 2020, about 60% of travel agencies have reopened by early August. Also, 80.22% of people are willing to travel in the third quarter, reaching 90% of the previous year's level.

However, health concerns are still the top priority for the public. Instead of choosing package tours, most of them prefer to go on a road trip with friends and family.

The hotel receptionist, Ms Zhang, also said that their customers this year are mainly individual travellers.

The parking lot in Taishan Mountain is crowded with cars at 7:40 am on Sept. 12.

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic is broadly under control in mainland China, there are still several new cases every day. The risk of infection remains to affect people's travelling decisions.

The tourism industry is required to follow precautionary measures. Reopened travel agencies are required to check tour guides' temperatures and maintain standardised disinfection procedures every day. They should also comply with the maximum number of visitors regulated by tourist attractions.

Visitors wear masks in the public area inside the Taishan Mountain, and maintain social distance.

"It's expected that there will still mainly be short trips and road trips during the eight-day holiday," Ms Zhang said.

Many travel agencies have rolled out new services targeting small groups and provide customised services to attract more customers.

She is expecting a faster recovery during the holiday. But to what extent the industry will recover remains to be seen, she said. "It's hard to say whether there will be a huge rebound or not. Apart from the remaining concern for infecting coronavirus, it's also because the Mid-Autumn Festival is traditionally for family reunions."

《The Young Financial Post 新報人財經》

新報人財經(TYFP)為香港浸會大學新聞系財經專業的實驗平台,由學生自主編採,為社會大眾提供中港相關的金融財經消息。

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