China’s Lunar New Year tourism surge unlikely to reach pre-pandemic levels

Anticipations are high for an increased number of Chinese tourists venturing abroad during the forthcoming Lunar New Year. However, industry analysts predict the numbers will not reach the pre-pandemic levels due to the prevailing uncertain economic situation and evolving consumer trends.

A significant surge in passenger traffic during the 40-day festive travel period, known as Chun Yun, is suggested by the official data released up to now. This period sees millions of Chinese either returning home or travelling abroad to celebrate the Lunar New Year, also referred to as the Spring Festival.

On the inaugural day of the travel season, the passenger trips recorded were 189 million, marking a 19.7% increase compared to the same period the previous year. These figures were reported by the state news agency Xinhua, referencing data from several government departments, including the Ministries of Transport and Public Security, alongside the China State Railway Group.

A forecast by Baidu, a Chinese tech firm, indicates a trend towards travelling to celebrate the Spring Festival. This trend is driven by family tours and sightseeing trips to other provinces.

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Among the popular destination cities for air travel, Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou rank in the top four, and Harbin surpasses traditional popular tourist cities such as Hangzhou, Kunming, Haikou, and Sanya to rank sixth [after Chengdu], the Baidu report highlighted.

In line with the surge in domestic travel, international travel from China is also projected to rise. This rise is attributed to a series of visa-free agreements with countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain. Thailand, owing to its warmer climate, continues to be a favourite destination for Chinese tourists, as stated in the Baidu report.

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Starting from March 1, Chinese travellers can enter Thailand without a visa, by a mutual agreement signed recently. The appeal of long-distance destinations like Egypt, Morocco, Kenya, and other African countries has increased among younger Chinese tourists, due to visa-free agreements and reasonably priced airfares, as per the Baidu report.

This year’s Spring Festival marks the second since China lifted its stringent Covid-19 restrictions towards the end of 2022. However, a Britain-based provider of global travel data, OAG, estimates that outbound flight capacity in the first quarter of this year will likely be 30% lower than in 2019.

John Grant, chief analyst at OAG, attributes this primarily to the uneven recovery of flights between Northeast Asia, Europe, and Southeast Asia.

“Ultimately, it’s about the economy. If the economy isn’t right, people aren’t in a position where they can travel, it doesn’t matter if you are in China or you are in the US.”

According to a report by Bank of America Securities, younger millennials and Gen Z have been the main drivers of the tourism rebound, accounting for two-thirds of total travellers during the Chinese New Year holidays. The report also noted that these younger travellers display more interest in local experiences and outdoor activities and are more influenced by social media compared to their parents.

Both domestic and international travel will continue to rebound further this year and will remain a bright spot for the economy, the report stated. It also suggested potential strategies for local governments, both domestic and international, such as promoting unique local culture on social media, organising concerts and festivals, and improving accessibility for travellers, reported Bangkok Post.

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Alex Morgan

Alex is a 42-year-old former corporate executive and business consultant with a degree in business administration. Boasting over 15 years of experience working in various industries, including technology, finance, and marketing, Alex has acquired in-depth knowledge about business strategies, management principles, and market trends. In recent years, Alex has transitioned into writing business articles and providing expert commentary on business-related issues. Fluent in English and proficient in data analysis, Alex strives to deliver well-researched and insightful content to readers, combining practical experience with a keen analytical eye to offer valuable perspectives on the ever-evolving business landscape.

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