China received surge in last minute domestic bookings for Golden Week
According to ForwardKeys, travel analytics firm, research reveals that domestic air travel in China during New Year Golden Week (February 11 – 17) was 69.3% down on the equivalent period in 2019, when travel was at normal, pre-pandemic levels. Domestic travel during the fortnight before, which is traditionally a busy period for Chinese people returning home to spend the holiday with their families was 62.3% down. The decline was “arrested” by last minute flight bookings and moving forward the outlook is encouraging.
Looking at the different destinations within China, Sanya, southernmost city on Hainan and a shopping Mecca, proved to be the most resilient in terms of tourism numbers, receiving 66% as many visitors as it did in 2019.
Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province, was the second most resilient destination, receiving 41% as many travelers as it did in 2019. Shenzhen, which links Hong Kong to mainland China and an alternative shopping hotspot, was the third place.
Travel to Haikou, which is located in the capital of Hainan, also proved relatively resilient, as it attracted 40% as many visitors. Chengdu and Chongqing, two major cities in Southwest China, known for their natural scenery and cuisine occupied fifth and sixth places in the resilience rankings, achieving 39% and 36% of 2019 visitor numbers, respectively.
By contrast, domestic travel to China’s two most important cities, Beijing and Shanghai, suffered significantly, owing to minor COVID-19 outbreaks and associated travel restrictions. Northern destinations, recognized for winter sports also fared badly, owing to a resurgence of COVID-19 this season.
Although the decline in travel was extremely severe, it was not as bad as had been expected just eight days earlier, when bookings for Golden Week travel were 85.3% behind where they were at the equivalent point in 2019. A sudden surge in last minute bookings was prompted by announcements from several local authorities that travel restrictions were being eased. Travel to Sanya was helped by the announcement on February 1 that travelers from low-risk areas did not require a PCR test before visiting the island, at which point, issued tickets surged and even overtook 2019’s level from February 4.
“From a travel perspective, this Chinese New Year has been dreadful. Excluding Sanya, no major destination in China managed to get close to half the number of domestic visitors it received in 2019; and only four major destinations managed to reach two fifths. However, the situation could have been much worse had it not been for a surge in last minute bookings, owing to a loosening of travel restrictions.
The Chinese domestic aviation market has been incredibly volatile; and that volatility has been driven in one direction by a powerful pent-up demand to travel and in the other by resurgences of COVID-19 and the imposition of travel restrictions.
At the beginning of September, with COVID-19 seemingly eradicated from China, domestic aviation returned to pre-pandemic levels. However, the recent modest outbreaks have hit Chinese New Year travel. As China cleared all high and medium-risk areas on February 22, which means the latest COVID-19 outbreak has been contained, we believe that considerable pent-up demand will be released in the spring – especially during the Labour Day holiday in May. As of February 19, flight tickets issued for the Labour Day holiday (May 1 – 5) were only 8% behind where they were at the equivalent moment in 2019,” explains Olivier Ponti, Vice President of Insights, ForwardKeys.