China’s COVID worries about making Golden Week holiday shine

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BEIJING (Reuters) – Travel during China’s Golden Week holiday, which begins on Saturday, is expected to hit its lowest level in years, analysts say, as COVID-19 concerns prompt people to avoid travel and stay in their cities, while economic hardship curbs spending.

One of the longest public holiday periods, celebrating the founding of modern China in 1949, this period is an indicator of consumer demand in the world’s second-largest economy, when travel and spending traditionally peak.

As global travel has begun to open up as many countries choose to live with COVID-19, China’s tourism sector has collapsed under authorities’ decision to double down on their zero-COVID approach with drastic restrictions, such as city-wide shutdowns.

“It is unrealistic to keep high hopes for tourism this year,” said Liu Simin, head of the tourism branch of the China Society for Futures Studies, a Beijing-based research institute.

If travel during these holidays reached half of 2019 levels and spending over the period reached 30-40% of pre-pandemic holiday spending, that would be a “pretty good” result, he added.

Liu’s projection of a halving in the number of trips would represent the worst figure in a decade, according to Reuters calculations based on government data.

Over the past two years, China’s Golden Week travel and spending has been below 2019 levels, which generated 782 million trips and tourism revenue of 650 billion yuan ($90 billion).

INVITED TO STAY ON SITE

Health officials this month urged people to stay put for Golden Week and passed new rules requiring negative COVID test results within 48 hours for travelers planning to take trains and planes , or cross provincial borders by bus.

And a slowing economy, battered by high youth unemployment and a faltering housing market, is causing many people to tighten their wallets.

Around 7.8 million passenger trips are likely to be made by air over the holidays, down 16% from last year, while daily passenger flights will fall by at least a fifth, according to estimates from flight data services company VariFlight.

And the Ministry of Transport predicts a 30% drop in the number of road travelers.

“I don’t want to give an estimate, it’s going to be too dark,” said a travel analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In the southern resort town of Sanya, a longtime magnet for domestic vacationers with its white-sand beaches and duty-free shopping malls, pessimism is mounting.

As restrictions were largely lifted after a long COVID lockdown this summer in parts of the city in the island province of Hainan, stories of desperate tourists unable to leave have made a deep impression.

Sanya “is not back,” said Shirley, the manager of a luxury store in the city, where travel industry workers are desperate for the return of Golden Week tourists.

“Each hotel only has single-digit occupancy.”

(1 USD = 7.2287 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Sophie Yu and Casey Hall; Editing by Brenda Goh and Clarence Fernandez)


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