BEIJING/SHANGHAI, Sept 28 (Reuters) - China expects a
significant rebound in domestic travel over the upcoming Golden
Week holiday after the sector was pummelled by the novel
coronavirus for months, with some flights selling out and travel
platforms reporting a surge in hotel bookings.
The pent-up demand is fuelling optimism the Chinese travel
industry has reached a turning point, with hopes the eight-day
holiday from Oct. 1 will supercharge a tentative pickup seen in
recent months, even as some trepidation over the virus lingers.
While the world's second-largest economy is now largely back
to normal, though there are still pockets of lingering weakness
such as tourism, Capital Economics said in a recent note.
China's resurgent travel industry offers a striking contrast
to business in some other parts of Asia as well as in the United
States and Europe, where the novel coronavirus is still
circulating and gatherings are restricted.
The holiday to mark modern China's founding is traditionally
one of its busiest times for travel, and not just at home. Last
year, 782 million trips were made, with more than 7 million
people travelling abroad, according to government data.
"The demand on tourism that was suppressed for nine months
will probably be released in these eight days," said online
travel platform Trip.com in a statement, estimating
that 600 million trips could be made.
China has largely stamped out its coronavirus epidemic,
which emerged in the central city of Wuhan late last year, and
many restrictions on domestic travel have been lifted.
Few people, however, are expected to venture abroad due to
various quarantine requirements around the world and a dearth of
overseas flights. On Monday, the Foreign Ministry announced that
people should avoid international trips unless "truly necessary"
due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But more domestic air bookings were made between Oct. 1 and
Sept. 14 than in the year-earlier period, with a surge in
August, and economy seats on popular routes, like Beijing to the
southwestern city of Lijiang, have sold out, according to travel
service provider Qunar.com.
Hotel and airline bookings made during the week of Sept.
8-15 exceeded those made during the same period last year,
Alibaba-backed online travel platform Fliggy said, with hotel
bookings for Golden Week up by more than 50%.
LONGING TO FLY
Spending on hotels during the holiday is expected to recover
to last year's level, or even see slight growth, according to
the research department of China's Meituan Dianping,
whose on-demand service apps span groceries to hotels.
"People want to fly somewhere, there is this pent-up demand
as they're sick of staying at home," said Mei Xin, retail
analyst at Huatai Securities.
But still, some coronavirus caution remains.
People often have to show health-tracking QR codes, which
have played a key part in containing the virus, and some hotels
are asking guests to get coronavirus tests before arriving.
And some families are being asked to stay at home.
In cities like Beijing and Shanghai, schools have asked
parents and students not to go away for the holidays unless
Beijing-based television producer Pan Lei, 45, said he felt
he had to cancel a family trip to the Yellow Mountain tourist
area after getting a notice from his children's schools.
"I lost the money I paid in advance," he said.
But he said it was understandable there were fears of a
second coronavirus wave this winter.
"Schools want to cut risks to the minimum."
(Reporting by Sophie Yu and Brenda Goh
Editing by Robert Birsel)