HONG KONG 9 February 2021: China’s week-long public holiday for Chinese New Year begins 11 February, and it appears that the Year of the Ox will kick off with many families having to stay put due to the current travel restrictions, ForwardKeys reports.
Looking at China’s current and future tourism market, ForwardKeys and Dragon Trail Interactive teamed up to examine flight booking trends and travel marketing campaigns. They concluded Chinese New Year travel was on a pause.
“There were high hopes for travel during this typically popular period, especially after a strong travel recovery in the domestic sector by the end of Q3 2020.
“But local COVID-19 outbreaks have resulted in official policies throughout the country requiring people not to leave the areas where they live, and as such travel bookings have dropped dramatically.”
Domestic travel based on the number of tickets issued to travel within China for the Chinese New Year monitored period last December was 57.3% down from the same period in 2019.
“Now, with all the tickets that have been issued as of 28 January, it is down by 75.9%,” reported ForwardKeys China market expert Nan Dai.
Travel agencies have been restricted from selling group tours or packages to high- or medium-risk areas, and some tourist attractions have closed.
“As of 18 January, air and rail departures from Beijing over the Spring Festival period were already down by 43% compared to 2020, and 69% compared to 2019.
Last week, the National Railway Group reported that tickets for the three days from 28 to 30 January were only a quarter of what they were in 2020, and tickets for the 31 were down by 75%,” said Dragon Trail Interactive associate director of communications, Sienna Parulis-Cook.
Looking at WeChat marketing for international hotel brands (tracked weekly by Dragon Trail Interactive) over the past two months, the main promotional theme was “Sun or Snow.” This means the very extensive promotion of wintery, ski-oriented destinations in north-eastern China, as well as the tropical island climate and tax-free shopping in the south, in Hainan.
This was demonstrated by the issued tickets leading up to the Chinese New Year before the new strains of COVID-19 appeared, and authorities placed the travel restrictions between provinces.
“Travel to southern parts of China with warmer weather and fewer new cases witnessed the most advanced bookings. Guangdong tops the list, and Hainan jumps to the second place with 33% recovery in ticket volume as of 14 January,” said Dai.
The team at Dragon Trail monitored online a host of activities by five-star hotels promoting the south or north. Marriott published an article on WeChat in January recommending the Harbin Ice and Snow Festival, skiing in Changbaishan and Chongli, and winter beauty in Changchun. A recent report by travel website Qyer.com listed Changbaishan, a mountainous area in Jilin Province, as 2020’s 8th fastest-growing travel destination in China.
Shangri-la also promoted hotels in Harbin in December, and Ibis promoted Changchun and Harbin. At the same time, Hilton publicized its extensive selection of properties throughout China, as well as dreamy holidays in Sanya, Hainan.
The international hotel brand to promote this “Sun or Snow” concept most heavily for winter tourism was the InterContinental Hotels Group. In December, they published posts offering a choice between a tropical winter break in Hainan, and snowy travel in the north of China. Then on 4 January, they again integrated this concept into an interactive post showing how much better 2021 would be compared to 2020. In 2020, they showed through illustrations that you were stuck at home. In 2021, you’ll be surfing in Sanya or learning to ski.
The optimism was premature. There’s still some push for Hainan travel. On 1 February, the Sanya government announced that travellers from low-risk areas with a green Hainan health QR code wouldn’t need to take a PCR test before visiting the island.
At the end of January, Marriott was still promoting “little family reunions” in Hainan, and Shangri-la Sanya rolled out Chinese New Year family packages while stressing its high hygiene standards.
“The biggest Chinese New Year travel trend in 2021 will certainly be the staycation,” said Parulis-Cook. “Trip.com Group (Ctrip) reported that Spring Festival staycation bookings were up 260%, with searches for local travel up by 40%. 80% of their users will stay local over Chinese New Year, they said, with increases all over the country.”