Based on the number of issued air tickets, China domestic air travel has reached more than 50% of what it was at the same time last year. This is according to data collected and analyzed by travel analytics company, ForwardKeys.
In addition, analysis of flight ticketing data reveals a significant uptick in last-minute domestic flight bookings in China between May 11 and 21. During that period, the lead time between ticketing and travel shortened dramatically; 72% of flight tickets were issued within 4 days of the travel date, compared with 51% at the equivalent point in 2019. This phenomenon is likely to be significantly influenced by students returning to university, as the timing coincides with universities reopening – a milestone that is expected to stimulate Chinese consumers to travel more.
Looking back to the start of 2020, China domestic air travel surged in the first 3 weeks of January, thanks to Chinese New Year. However, the COVID-19 outbreak spoiled the party, and by mid-February, the aviation market in China had all but collapsed. In the last week of that month, the recovery began, and passenger traffic jumped 62.9% (all be it from a very low base), coinciding with a weak restart of the economy and an increase in seat capacity. Throughout March and April, air travel continued to pick up slowly until it received a fillip from the Labor Day holiday at the start of May.
While all this sounds encouraging, it is likely that a stronger recovery is underway in the hospitality sector with many people choosing to drive or take a high-speed train rather than fly. According to the Travel Willingness Survey conducted by China Tourism Academy and China’s online travel agency Ctrip, in March, 41% of travelers said that they would travel by car once the coronavirus outbreak had been contained, 29% would travel by train, 16% would take a coach trip, and only 14% would fly. Furthermore, China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism has reported that 60% of vacationers traveled by car during the Labor Day holiday period. This hypothesis is further supported by reports of hotel occupancy now exceeding 60%.
The China domestic air travel revival will certainly be welcomed trending news by everyone in the tourism industry, but it needs to be kept in perspective, because at the moment the business is mostly local, and, typically, the shorter the distance people travel, the less they tend to spend.
As of now, group travel between provinces is still prohibited but, comments on various Chinese social media platforms predicts that the ban will be lifted in June, although there is no official news yet.