|The return of tourism|
Cyclists on a forest path in the Yangtze River Forest Park in Neijiang, Sichuan Province on December 9 (XINHUA)
Inspirational messages began pouring onto Chinese social media on December 7, with tourism operators and staff feeling relieved that, almost three years into the pandemic, they are still able to hang on as part of the industry.
Xu Errong is one of them. "This is like light at the end of the dark night," Xu, a marketing manager at the CYTS Tours Holding Co. Ltd., formerly China Youth Travel Service, told Beijing Review.
For the tourism industry, the continuous release of favorable policies in the lead-up to the New Year and Spring Festival has offered hope for recovery.
On the afternoon of December 9, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism adjusted the relevant COVID-19 prevention and control guidelines, ending the requirement for travelers to quarantine upon arrival in destination cities and to present their health status before entering attractions and entertainment venues.
The Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture and Tourism said on December 13 that travel agencies have resumed their businesses, including operating group tours in and out of Beijing.
Based on the Omicron variant's decreased virulence, the high rate of vaccination and China's accumulated experience in containing the pandemic, central authorities have adjusted the nation's anti-COVID measures to ensure they're in line with the current situation and facilitate the orderly recovery of business and life.
Visitors feed giraffes at Guangzhou Zoo in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province on December 10 (XINHUA)
The general public has responded to the policy changes with enthusiasm. According to data from Ctrip, China's leading online travel agency, after the news was released, searches for plane tickets soared 160 percent from the day before. Data from Ly.com, another online travel agency, showed that the searches for train tickets rose 276 percent, and the searches for plane tickets increased 438 percent. Previously, such dramatic surges in the search volume for these tickets usually took place shortly before the Spring Festival travel rush in the past three years.
If the rapid increase in search volume reflects the market expectation, the increase in trip orders points to a strong recovery of the tourism industry. According to the booking data from Tuniu, another online travel agency, from December 5 to 12, orders for independent travel products accounted for 68 percent of all package travel products sold, with the order volume increasing 113 percent month on month.
Tours of areas close to travelers' home cities and self-driving tours have been the first to pick up. Xu said he believes inter-provincial travel to popular destinations such as Hainan and Yunnan provinces and northeast China will recover at a slower pace.
During the past week, Hainan, Yunnan, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and other areas have entered a battle for tourists. On December 7, Hainan officially launched an offshore duty-free shopping carnival, which will run throughout the Spring Festival holiday period (January 21-27, 2023) to February 5. There are six duty-free business entities in the island province, with 12 offshore duty-free shops. In addition to offline physical stores, there are also online shopping malls, which will successively launch various discounted products during the promotional period.
"We will bring tourists to Hainan. And those who can't come to Hainan will be drawn to online consumption," an official from the Hainan Department of Commerce said at a recent press conference.
Caution amid fever
"Although the tourism industry has begun to recover, I don't think the rebound will be strong at this early time," Xu said. The hardest time for the industry has passed, but most people continue to treat news of a recovery with caution, he added.
Public confidence in the travel market still needs some time to recover, thus affecting the large-scale recovery of tourism, Xu continued.
According to Xu, another factor influencing the speed of recovery is that retirees have made up a large portion of China's tourists and the particular vulnerability of this group to COVID-19 is likely to slow their return to traveling.
Exploring one's own city, making short trips to surrounding areas, lodging in rural homestays, camping, and taking cycling and self-driving trips have all emerged as increasingly popular forms of tourism during the pandemic, Li Chunying, a teacher at the Tourism College of Beijing Union University, told Beijing Review. This diversification of travel forms and experiences will continue as tourism recovers, she said.
At this point, as pandemic prevention policies begin to be relaxed, people can once again hit the road and enjoy travel. Guan Da, a 31-year-old IT specialist based in Shanghai, told Beijing Review that she is very happy that the nearby shops and restaurants can resume normal business. "I'm looking forward to the festival atmosphere in the city and seeing the smiling faces of my friends," she said. Despite the growing number of people leaving their homes to explore the city, when asked if she is ready to venture out herself, Guan was undecided. "We'll see," she said.
There are three pillars of China's tourism—domestic tourism, outbound tourism, and inbound tourism. The order of recovery will largely be domestic first, then outbound, and finally inbound, according to Xu. "The road is still long," he added. In addition to the relaxation of policies, there are still many problems to be solved, and strong policy support is needed, otherwise the recovery process will be hindered, he said.
But still, Xu says inquiries for travel visas have started to increase. "We found that many people are asking when outbound travel will restart. We understand their anticipation for traveling abroad, and the tourism industry also looks forward to the day when tourism returns to normal," he said.
"After domestic travel goes through a testing period, outbound travel will also require some adjustment before it can return to a normal state," Xu added. Still, how to meet the needs of consumers, adapt to their new consumption habits, and ensure their safety and health when traveling abroad are important issues to be considered, according to Xu.
The recovery of the world tourism also needs Chinese tourists. Senior speakers at this year's World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit, held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from November 29 to December 2, noted that a recovery wasn't a recovery without the presence of citizens from the world's second largest economy. There's still something vital missing from the global tourism economy, and that's the presence of Chinese tourists.
"The recovery and prosperity of the tourism industry is a long-term trend that will not be hindered by short-term ups and downs. We deserve confidence and patience," Xu concluded.
Copyedited by G.P. Wilson
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org