China travel demand rebounds as COVID-19 curbs ease

Tourists visit Nakeli Village in Pu'er in southwest China's Yunnan Province, June 28, 2022. /CFP

The vitality of China's travel market is spurred by recent favorable policies and summer travel demand, sending a signal that the economy is gradually improving.

Summer is often a peak travel season. While the impact of the pandemic wanes, multiple favorable policies and demand increases have accelerated the travel sector's recovery.

As of June 24, most parts of China have resumed inter-provincial travel. Shanghai restarted group tours from the start of July after a three-month suspension in containing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

The gradually easing of restrictions boosts confidence in the summer travel market while at the same time providing some policy certainty, said Cheng Chaogong, a senior researcher at Tongcheng Research Institute, a think tank with the travel agency

Based on high policy certainty, Tongcheng Research Institute predicts that the summer tourism market will embark on the recovery track in 2022. It also expected a strong rebound in the parent-child tourism segment.

Tourists visit Yangzhou China Grand Canal Museum in east China's Jiangsu Province, June 29, 2022. /CFP

Data from shows that tickets sale for domestic tourist attractions rose 44 percent in the first half of June from the second half of May.

Shanghai Disneyland reopened on June 30, and ticket sales to the resort jumped 42 percent on the day from the same time in March on the booking website

The broader metrics also portray a brightening picture. China's June official purchase managers index for the service sector returned to expansion after three months of contraction. Among the sub-categories, rail and air travel performed exceptionally.

China halved quarantine time for inbound travelers on June 28. Online inquiries and bookings for travel surged on the news. Travel booking website, shows that an hour following the announcement, the search volume of international air tickets doubled, reached the peak of outbound air ticket searches on the platform over the last two years.

China also removed the asterisk on the travel code a day later to facilitate mobility. The mark indicated a person's travel history involving an area with COVID-19 infections. Qunar data shows that the search volume for hotels doubled within 30 minutes of the announcement, and the search volume for train tickets increased by 1.5 times.

Travel sector insiders are cautiously optimistic about the recent development. Slashing quarantine time and removing the asterisk from travel history has undoubtedly facilitated mobility and came as specific measures in stabilizing economic growth while guarding against the epidemic, Li Xinjian, executive dean of the Capital Institute of Culture and Tourism Development of Beijing International Studies University told Cailianshe, a Chinese media outlet.

Tourists visit Huai'an Crystal Palace Beluga Water Park in east China's Jiangsu Province, July 3, 2022. /CFP

China is expected to see 520 million railway trips during the summer travel rush from July 1 to August 31, data from China State Railway Group Co. showed.

Rather than retaliatory consumption, there will be compensatory consumption, said Cheng. He expects the overall number of tourists in July and August to recover to more than 70 percent of the same period in 2019. Business travel and family visits will perform better than vocational trips, he added.

Catering to the overall deployment of the State Council's 33 measures to stabilize the economy, various localities have introduced policies to promote consumption in the cultural and tourism sector.

It is expected that new consumption hot-spots like E-sports hotels and the camping craze will thrive in the summer tourism market this year, while the night tour market and weekend micro vacations will be the highlights of summer travel market, said Cheng.