Millions of Chinese tourists usually would use their week-long National Day holidays to travel abroad.
This year, travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic mean that some 600 million tourists — about 40 per cent of the population — will travel within China during the holiday that began Thursday, according to Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency.
That’s still down 25 per cent from last year, when tourists took 782 million domestic trips and generated tourism revenue of 650 billion yuan (USD 95.4 billion), according to government data.
The eight-day holiday this year, which coincides with the Mid-Autumn Festival, will be a litmus test of whether China’s tourism industry can bounce back following the battering it took earlier in the year.
Travel within the country, and sometimes even within cities, was restricted beginning with the Lunar New Year as China fought the spread of the coronavirus that emerged in the central city of Wuhan and has sickened more than 34 million people, killing over a million.
The weeklong holiday in October is typically the busiest time for domestic travel.
With the world’s biggest-spending tourists spending their money travelling domestically, local governments are offering discounts and subsidies to tourists, including free or heavily discounted tickets to attractions.
Zhao Kerui, a designer with a flexible working schedule, often takes several trips abroad each year.
Last year, he visited Malaysia and Japan. He had planned to visit Istanbul in Turkey or to Jeju island in South Korea this year, but eventually decided to instead visit cities like Chengdu, known for being the home of pandas, as well as scenic Guilin, famed for its karst limestone hills.
“To take a trip abroad, you will be quarantined for half a month when you arrive, and when you return, it’s another half a month of quarantine,” Zhao said.
“One month is gone with you doing nothing at all.”
Cao Ke, a science researcher based in Shanghai, usually would spend his National Day holiday relaxing at the beaches in Thailand’s Phuket island.
This year he’s heading to the southern coastal province of Fujian in China, hoping to take some nice photos.
“I usually prefer travelling abroad, because there are too many people travelling domestically, and accommodation and meals become very expensive,” said Cao.
That’s a sentiment shared by many Chinese who can afford to fly overseas for holidays but now are barred by flight cancellations and quarantine restrictions.
Thailand, one of the most popular destinations among Chinese travelers, closed its airports to international commercial flights in April and has yet to fully reopen to tourism.