Domestic flights bounce back to pre-pandemic levels

The long-awaited recovery of China’s travel industry has officially arrived as flight bookings show a return to pre-pandemic levels.

According to the Chinese travel agency Qunar, incoming and outgoing flights in Nanjing, Dalian, Wuhan, and Beijing reached 90% of 2019 levels in the first three weeks of March. During the same period, flight bookings have even exceeded pre-pandemic levels in some cities, including Sanya Chengdu, Hangzhou, Chongqing, Guangzhou, Changsha, and Harbin.

Many of these cities attract tourists due to their historical sites, but Chengdu’s claim to fame is its panda research centre, which recently has seen a burst of interest on Chinese travel sites and social media. For visitors to Sanya, in the luxury haven Hainan Island, the main attraction is its beach resorts and duty-free shopping.

Whilst there is much to explore within China’s borders, domestic tourists have also been heading further afield. The most searched for international destinations on travel sites include Vietnam, Italy, France, and Spain. China’s outbound tour groups have also re-established tour plans in 60 countries. A surge in international travel out of China is expected during the May Day vacation season (April 29 – May 3 2023).

Whilst the recovery of domestic travel is a boon to China’s overall economic outlook, there is still uncertainty over the extent and speed of the nation’s return to pre-pandemic annual growth figures. The Ministry of Finance reported a decline in fiscal revenue over the first two months of the year and the central government adjusted its GDP increase target to 5%, compared to the 5.5% target that was set for 2022.

Uncertainty also hangs over China’s exports, which have been hit had by the global economic downturn over the last few months. Some Taiwanese manufacturers operating in China have also been relocating production elsewhere to avoid potential disruptions caused by worsening US-China relations.

The central government hopes to boost consumption to offset the sluggish exports, which have no sign of recovery on the horizon.


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