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The backstory: A few years back, Chinese tourists were known for their big spending, especially on group tours, which made up about 60% of their expenses. In 2018 and 2019, Chinese tourists were dishing out US$277 billion and US$255 billion, respectively, on overseas travel. According to the UN, that made up about 20% of the world's international tourism spending.
When COVID hit, it threw a wrench into these figures. In the first half of this year, Chinese tourists were only taking about 26% of their usual overseas trips, mostly within Asia. That's roughly 40.4 million journeys, according to the China Tourism Academy.
China has been gradually reopening international travel, starting with permitting group tours to 20 countries in January and expanding with another 40 by March. In August, they were also allowed to countries like the US, Australia, the UK, South Korea and Japan as part of its cautious approach to restoring outbound travel.
More recently: Earlier this month, Jin Junhao, a deputy director at the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), said they're expecting over 21 million travelers during the upcoming Golden Week holiday period. To handle this surge, they've scheduled around 14,000 domestic flights every day. CAAC is also pushing for more investment in international air transport capacity, emphasizing the need to restart international flights actively.
The development: China is gearing up for a travel boom as the Golden Week holiday approaches from September 29 to October 6. This unique holiday, coinciding with the Mid-Autumn festival and National Day, has sparked a rush among Chinese tourists to book flights. Airfare prices, including for long-haul international routes, have surged as a result.
So, what's driving these rising prices? It's the growing interest in lesser-explored Chinese destinations. Online travel agency Tongcheng reported increased attention to places like Xinjiang, Tibet, Qinghai, Ningxia and Heilongjiang in the far northeast. Travelers are also extending their trips, with 37% planning stays of six to eight nights, and there's a trend toward personalized travel experiences for solo travelers and couples, according to data from ForwardKeys.
Outbound travel bookings on platforms like Trip.com have shot up, almost 20 times higher than during the same holiday period last year. The hotspots? Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and the UK. This is a relief for Chinese airlines that have struggled since the pandemic hit.
“More than 21 million passengers will travel by air during the holiday period,” said Jin Junhao, a deputy director at the Civil Aviation Administration of China, at a briefing in Beijing earlier this month. Just domestically, there will be around 14,000 domestic flights a day, according to the regulator.
“The CAAC encourages domestic and foreign operators to increase capacity investment in the international air transport market and actively resume international flights,” said Junhao.
“Air ticketing data also show that there has been an increase in bookings made by solo travelers and couples, something for tour operators, hoteliers and retailers to keep in mind this Golden Week,” said Nancy Dai, an analyst with ForwardKeys, in a report. “For young travelers, personalized options that meet their needs are becoming even more popular.”