BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Golden Week holiday this year is unlikely to see domestic travel rebound to pre-COVID levels, industry estimates show, hurt by uncertainty over pandemic curbs and consumer fears about the health of the economy.
The seven-day holiday from Oct. 1 to mark the founding of modern China is traditionally one of its busiest times for travel and is closely watched as a barometer of consumer demand in the world’s second-largest economy.
Chinese travel booking site LY.com said it is expecting some 650 million trips, about 80% of the number made for the same period in 2019 and the lowest level since 2017. That is only a tad higher than the 637 million trips made last year when the holiday was eight days long.
“The impact of COVID-19 is big and is long,” said Zhang Qidi, visiting researcher at the Center of International Finance Studies at the Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing.
“Citizens are heavily indebted because of their home and car loans and that has resulted in a decline in disposable income.”
While China’s economy has rebounded from last year’s coronavirus-led slump, momentum in that recovery has slowed over the past few months – in part due to COVID-19 curbs imposed in several provinces and more recently due to power shortages.
For those who are travelling, cheaper shorter trips are in vogue.
Online searches for “niche travel destination” have surged in the run-up to the holiday, according to Chinese lifestyle site Little Red Book, and domestic online travel company Trip.com Group said last week that more than half of the tourists using its platform were preferring to take shorter distance trips.
“Going to fifth-tier cities is the new choice for the long holiday,” Trip.com said in a report, referring to some of the country’s least-developed and rural areas.
China’s commerce ministry said this month it would strengthen efforts to boost consumer spending. At least 20 local governments have handed out coupons that can used at shopping malls, convenience stores and restaurants to encourage spending from late September’s Mid-Autumn Festival through to Golden Week, state media has said.
(Reporting by Sophie Yu and Brenda Goh; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)