(CNN) – As China slowly eases the lockdown restrictions and life returns to somewhat normal conditions, residents have resumed travel.
But a slight increase in domestic tourism does not necessarily mean that international travel will rebound as quickly.
At least not according to a recent study by the Trip.com group, China’s largest online travel agency.
Based on a survey of 15,000 people in 100 cities in China at the end of March, the company found that 16% of those surveyed will be ready to leave in May in time for Golden Week, a five-day holiday.
“China is recovering well. Wuhan’s lockdown will be lifted and at the same time everyone in the world is fighting Covid-19,” Jane.com, CEO of Trip.com, told CNN Travel.
“With National Day, we think May is a good time for travelers to return home, as many countries have closed their borders.”
Children wear protective masks when they visit the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China on March 24.
Lintao Zhang / Getty Images AsiaPac / Getty Images
What appears to be good news for China’s domestic tourism sector could be a disappointment abroad for the global travel industry, which continues to move away from the new epidemic of coronavirus.
In 2018 alone, Chinese travelers made about 150 million trips abroad and collectively spent more than $ 277 billion.
“In 2001, Chinese residents made 10.5 million trips abroad. In 2018, that number increased by 1,326%. For some countries, China is now the main incoming source of travelers,” added Sun .
“Domestic travel is the first step towards recovery. We remain optimistic about the future.”
China’s domestic recovery
An aerial photo, taken on April 7, shows high-speed trains lined up at a station in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province.
STR / AFP / AFP via Getty Images
With many Chinese New Year plans interrupted by the coronavirus epidemic earlier this year, embarking on a post-Covid-19 adventure has certainly been on the minds of many Chinese residents.
And for some, this initial journey is fast approaching. According to Trip.com, about 61% of Chinese travelers surveyed said they would feel ready to travel again by August.
About 77% of respondents said they would prefer a domestic destination for their first post-epidemic trip, citing “the serious viral situation abroad” as one of the main considerations when choosing a destination.
“Our survey shows that it is encouraging to see that the majority of Chinese travelers have a strong appetite to resume travel and retail expenses after the disappearance of Covid-19,” Katie Sham told CNN Travel director of Oliver Wyman based in Shanghai.
“The main reason why Chinese travelers want to explore the country is that China is in a much more stabilized state compared to the rest of the world, at least in the next three to four months.”
Adventures at home
In the 1980s, Dong Yao-hui was part of the first team of three men to travel the entire length of the Great Wall of China. Today, it focuses on its preservation.
In addition, there is no shortage of things to see and do across the vast country.
“In China, cities are popular and China is home to many UNESCO sites, so there is a lot to discover,” says Sun.
Jane Sun, CEO of Trip.com Group
“The Chinese are curious and passionate about exploring their country and seeing different provinces, cities and monuments,” said Holger Jakobs, vice president of sales and marketing for Wharf hotels, at CNN Travel.
“There is a long list of destinations that many young people have not seen. As international travel has become easier, they have focused on rapid travel to Hong Kong and Taiwan and Southeast Asia. But now I think there will be a great resurgence of the classic destinations in China which were still there but which were in the background for some travelers. ”
Wharf Hotels operates 10 properties in China, providing a solid overview of the recovery in the travel market.
“I think the survey (Trip.com) is correct. We have in fact already seen a rebound in domestic travel – including leisure and non-essential business travel, corporate meetings and events – in our properties in areas that weren’t as affected as central China, “said Jakobs.
“In particular, we have seen recent increases in Chongqing and Chengdu. These cities were already major draw cards for shorter domestic trips, so these hotels are leading the recovery right now in our portfolio.”
Travel style changes
As China emerges after months of foreclosure, people are back on the city streets and crowds flock to popular destinations. CNN’s David Culver reports that officials of cautious optimism warn.
As for the needs and preferences of Chinese travelers, it will not be as usual – at least not at first.
The Trip.com and Oliver Wyman surveys both revealed that concerns about safety and ease of travel are at the forefront.
“Chinese travelers want to feel safe and virus-free at each point of contact throughout the journey,” said Sham.
“They want to make sure that the hotels and restaurants they choose are frequently disinfected, with hygiene being the top priority of the staff.”
In addition, many travelers will prefer easy, short trips that aren’t too far to test things out. The idea is that if they have problems, they can easily go home.
“What we have seen with our hotels is that flexibility is essential,” he says.
“We are witnessing a resurgence in bookings and voucher purchases – which means that you can buy a voucher for a few nights and have full flexibility when it is used within a given period of time, just in case something thing would happen. ”
Travel modes will also change as people adapt to travel after Covid-19. According to the Trip.com survey, the most popular travel style will be independent and self-guided trips and small group tours.
On the other hand, styles of travel that are considered dangerous – such as group tours or large group cruises – may take longer to relieve residents who are wary of viruses.
According to Oliver Wyman, 71% said they would avoid sightseeing bus tours and 55% would avoid cruises, due to the perceived health risks.
What about traveling abroad?
While shorter domestic trips may trigger the resurgence of travel to China, international travel is probably not too far behind.
About 14% of Trip.com respondents expressed interest in visiting European countries, although their plans are dependent on travel and security restrictions.
“Travel abroad will resume gradually as soon as the pandemic is brought under control, borders are lifted and subsequent visas from the respective embassies and consulates are available,” said Sun.
Indeed, a renewed desire to travel to China indicates a return to the status quo, rather than a radical change in travel habits.
Chinese travelers made more than 6 billion trips to the country in 2019, compared to only 155 million trips abroad, according to figures from the China Tourism Academy.
“Over 90% of all Chinese travelers were already traveling within the country (before Covid-19), so if you ask for a more or less representative sample of the Chinese population, this is what you will get,” Wolfgang Georg Arlt, founder of COTRI, tells CNN Travel.
“At COTRI, we are looking at the 10% of Chinese travelers with passports who are traveling abroad, and how their travel behavior will change after the crisis ends,” he added. “I think this clientele will initially choose short domestic trips, as well as regional trips abroad.”
Considering the first outbound trips after the virus, Arlt predicts that travelers will likely choose nearby destinations in Asia such as Thailand, South Korea and Vietnam.
“It depends on a few factors: which destination will allow Chinese travelers to enter, who showed empathy when Wuhan was the center of the crisis, and which destinations are not considered dangerous,” he added. .
“I think that for Europe and Australia, and especially the United States, it will take longer before travel to these destinations becomes normal again.”