SHANGHAI -- With the coronavirus pandemic making international vacations all but impossible, Chinese citizens are heading to domestic destinations during the National Day holiday that starts Thursday, giving the country's tourism industry a much-needed boost.
Upward of 600 million trips will be made within the country during this year's seven-day holiday, booking site Trip.com estimates. This figure would fall short of the 780 million in 2019 but provide a solid recovery in tourism.
"We used to vacation overseas every year, but we have to make do with a domestic trip this year," said a 29-year-old Shanghai woman who is traveling to Sanya, a renowned resort on the island province of Hainan. "I thought going to Sanya would save money, so it was surprising to hear the room rates at the hotel where I'm staying are 50% more than usual."
Hotel room prices in the beach resort have surged, some costing twice as much, local media report. Luxury hotels in Shanghai are charging about 20% more during China's Golden Week, a Trip.com analysis as of mid-September shows. One top destination this season is Wuhan, the city that was ground zero for the initial coronavirus outbreak.
Flights also are picking up. Domestic passengers at industry leader China Southern Airlines were only about 20% below year-earlier levels in August. Some travel agencies predict domestic passenger levels during the October holiday will even top last year by 10%. Air travel within China for the month may rise year-on-year for the first since the coronavirus outbreak.
Regional governments are using the holiday to spur consumption. The city of Harbin, the capital of the northernmost province of Heilongjiang, is giving out 200 million yuan ($29.4 million) worth of vouchers for travel, movie tickets and other purchases, while Shandong Province plans to issue shopping coupons worth 150 million yuan. About 20 other provinces and cities are offering similar incentives.
Retailers and restaurants are struggling in major cities and outlying areas alike. August in-store sales, including those at large malls, fell 3.4% on the year, while restaurant sales tumbled 7% that month, government data shows. Broader retail sales achieved the first increase since the coronavirus outbreak, but growth was driven largely by online bargains.
Fears of a second or third wave of coronavirus linger. China told cinemas and tourist attraction operators on Sept. 18 to cap attendance at 75% of capacity. The directive followed a lockdown of a city bordering Myanmar that is a popular tourism destination after a cluster of infections was discovered.