China's tourism sector showed encouraging signs of recovery over the May Day holiday with 115 million trips made, many by car and by younger people emerging from weeks of coronavirus lockdown, according to government data and operators.
The five-day holiday from May 1 was an important test for the tourism industry, one of the sectors hardest hit by the coronavirus, which emerged in central China late last year and triggered shutdowns of up to three months to rein it in.
The total of 115 million trips over the holiday was down 41% from the 195 million over the same period last year, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
But the figure beat expectations of about 90 million trips and was a hopeful sign, travel operators and authorities said.
"We can see that everyone's confidence is gradually recovering," Liang Jianzhang, chairman of travel operator Trip.com, told state broadcaster CCTV.
China has tried to encourage domestic tourism in a bid to revive an economy seriously battered by the coronavirus.
Japanese financial firm Nomura said China's holiday activity indicated a return to normal for its economy but it would be gradual.
"The pace of the recovery is quite slow, as the Chinese government is still maintaining some social distancing measures, consumer confidence is clouded by elevated uncertainty, and plummeting exports dent household income and slash millions of jobs," Nomura wrote in a report.
The tourism ministry said travel operators earned total revenue of 47.56 billion yuan ($6.74 billion) over the holiday. It did not give a figure for last year.
Tourists travelling by car accounted for more than 60% of the travel during the holiday, the ministry said. Trip.com said bookings for its car rentals were 10% up on the same period last year.
More than half of bookings for Trip.com's holiday packages were made by travellers born in 1990 or later, known as China's post-90s and post 00s generations, the company said, with scenic spots such as the Jiuzhaigou National Park as well as the cities Chengdu and Shanghai among top picks.
Overall, Trip.com said it saw bookings made on April 29 for air, rail and car transport for the holiday were 130% higher than all of the bookings for the week of April 24-29.
The number of people travelling outside their cities surged nearly 50% at the beginning of the holiday compared with the Tomb Sweeping holiday on April 4, according to Reuters calculations based on data from China's internet giant Baidu.
Most tourist attractions have been reopened, though attendance is limited to 30% of capacity in many of them to reduce the risk of coronavirus infections.
(Reporting by David Stanway and Brenda Goh; Additional reporting by Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel)