May Day holidays expected to see outbound travel peak, but full recovery will take time
Published: Apr 26, 2023 10:22 PM
Two Chinese tourists and local dancers pose for photos at the Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, Indonesia, Jan 22, 2023. Photo:Xinhua

Two Chinese tourists and local dancers pose for photos at the Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, Indonesia, Jan 22, 2023. Photo:Xinhua

China's outbound tourism is expected to see the first travel peak in more than three years during the upcoming May Day holidays, as more Chinese head overseas during the first long holiday after the country declared a decisive victory against the COVID-19 epidemic in February. 

Since China took measures to resume the orderly operation of outbound tour groups, including an end to major anti-epidemic restrictions, online searches and bookings for overseas trips have skyrocketed, according to industry tracking data. However, a full recovery of outbound tourism still takes time due to various factors such as costs, industry analysts said. 

The five-day May Day holidays will officially start on Saturday and end on May 3. It is the first long holiday after China declared victory in the battle against the coronavirus epidemic and resumed outbound tour groups to a group of selected countries in February. 

While domestic travel is set to dominate the holidays with a restorative rebound, the five days off-work will also offer a powerful boost to the recovery of outbound tourism, Jia Jianqiang, CEO of 6renyou, an online tourism agency in Beijing, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Jia said that with more anti-epidemic restrictions being removed and efforts to increase international flights, "the impact of the epidemic is currently barely felt in the industry."   

In the latest move, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced on Tuesday that China will no longer require a negative PCR test result for travelers entering the country. 

Within one hour after the announcement, searches for cross-border flights on online travel platform Fliggy surged by 400 percent, according to media reports on Wednesday, highlighting soaring demand for international travel.

While a full picture of outbound tourism recovery for the May Day holidays remains unknown, recent tracking data suggests a significant rebound in both searches and bookings. 

For example, searches for outbound flights on domestic online travel agency surged to 120 percent of the level during the same period in 2019 before the pandemic, while searches for overseas hotels recovered to 70 percent, according to media reports on Tuesday. Most of the flight searches (66 percent) were for trips to closer destinations such as Southeast Asia. 

Fliggy said that outbound travel bookings on the platform hit a new peak, more than doubling from the Spring Festival holidays in January. 

"This year's May Day holidays will be symbolic for the recovery of the tourism industry in China after the epidemic," Jiang Yiyi, deputy head of the School of Leisure Sports and Tourism under the Beijing Sport University, told the Global Times on Wednesday. "The tourism comeback also reflects that the recovery of China's consumption and overall economy has entered the fast lane."

However, outbound tourism is just at the early stage of the recovery due to factors such as limited flight capacity and visa issues, industry analysts say. 

But that has not stopped tourism authorities of many countries coming to China for the first time in three years to stage events to attract Chinese tourists.

According to media reports, in recent weeks, tourism authorities from countries such as Nepal and Malaysia came to China and traveled around the country to promote their tourist attractions. Some, including the tourism authorities of Canada's Ontario province, chose to tie up with Chinese firms to carry out promotional activities.

Jia said that this year's promotional activities by such countries are the first after three years of the epidemic, and will accelerate the recovery of the tourism industry. 

"Chinese tourists are of significance to the recovery of tourism on China's neighboring countries. They can even be called the anchor," Jiang noted.

Beyond Asian neighbors, other countries including Spain and Australia are now seeing rising arrivals of Chinese tourists. The first outbound tour group left Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong, in recent days for Spain, China Youth Daily reported on Wednesday. 

The number of Chinese tourists going to Australia jumped sharply since the resumption of outbound travel. In January, a total of 14,600 Chinese tourists entered Australia, and the number surged to 40,400 in February, according to a report on on Wednesday.