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Bookings for International Travel Destinations Surge after COVID Response Shift in China

By YAN DENG7|Jan 01,2023

Chongqing - With China's newly adjusted COVID-19 response lifting restrictions on Chinese citizens' overseas trips and promoting cross-border personnel exchanges on December 26, demand for international flight tickets has soared.

Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport T3A terminal and the third runway. (Photo/ Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport)

According to Ctrip, within 30 minutes of the announcement, searches for popular international destinations skyrocketed tenfold compared to last year's same period. Furthermore, search volume for outbound airline tickets and hotels reached a three-year high.

According to the online travel agency Qunar, the international flight ticket search volume increased sevenfold within 15 minutes after the updated COVID-19 management measures were announced. The hot destinations are Thailand, Japan, and South Korea.

Multiple overseas destinations were most popular before the epidemic began seeing significantly increased searches during the Chinese Spring Festival period in 2023. According to Ctrip, searches for Japan, Thailand, South Korea, America, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, and the UK grew sharply. During the Spring Festival, outbound group tour product searches increased sixfold.

Notably, although the total number of outbound tourists in China has been sluggish since the pandemic outbreak, the per capita consumption of outbound tourists has increased rather than decreased. According to Ctrip, the per capita spending of mainland tourists on international air tickets and luxury hotels in the last half year has increased by 64% and 40%, respectively, compared with the amount before the epidemic.

According to Lan Xiang, head of Qunar Big Data Research Institute, the new entry and exit policy will aid in the orderly recovery of international flights, and the number of inbound and outbound passengers will rise rapidly. As the supply-demand relationship of inbound and outbound air tickets gradually returns to normal, the overall price of international air tickets will drop progressively.

Fang Zexi, an industry analyst at Ctrip Research Institute, agreed. "With the recovery of the tourism supply side and the control of inflation by major economies worldwide, the overall price of air tickets and hotels for outbound tourists is expected to fall to the pre-epidemic level; however, considering the short-term constraints on the recovery of supply-side facilities and workforce, it will take some time for the price to fall."

It is worth noting that the "supply side" of visas will still have restrictions in the short term. According to a person in charge of visas for Ctrip, currently, priorities are still given to business, study, and visitation needs in terms of new passport issuing and passport renewal; the vast majority of countries have opened visa processing, but it is delayed due to the shortage of staff at multiple consulates incurred by the domestic epidemic.

However, Chinese users cannot restrain their enthusiasm for outbound travel. According to Ctrip visa data, overseas visa applications have increased more than 12 times annually since December 7, with Singapore, Japan, South Korea, America, the UK, and Australia among the most popular destinations.

Fang Zexi said, "At the policy level, the updated policy makes cross-border travel easier. As a result, tourists will be more eager to travel abroad. Moreover, we look forward to further implementing the new policy. The spring of outbound tourism has arrived."

The air ticket refund and change policy has been relatively harsh. Like domestic hotels' free cancellation policy, many overseas hotels offer free cancellation services. The consumption habit of "hoarding" hotels before purchasing air tickets developed during the epidemic has also been extended abroad. According to Qunar, the bookings of Macao hotels tripled compared with early December. Filipino, French, and Thai hotel bookings significantly increased, with those of Filipino hotels more than doubled.

Furthermore, during the 2023 new year holiday, domestic short-distance air travel has been a popular alternative for many people, according to Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport. It is expected to take off and land 2,000 vehicles throughout the three days of the New Year's Day Holiday, with a throughput of more than 200,000 people.


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