China’s decision to ditch its zero-COVID policy has triggered a surge in flight bookings, according to the latest data from the industry analysts.
And it’s China’s intra-regional neighbors in Asia who will reap the benefits the most.
According to the Chinese Traveler Sentiment Report, more than 60% of survey respondents said they wanted to travel outside of mainland China in 2023. This group expressed high expectations about the freedom of cross-border travel this year.
Survey respondents said they were excited to relax, as well as to experience scenery, food, culture, and shopping overseas.
Immediately upon China’s official announcement about the ease of COVID-19 controls, there was a surge in bookings for domestic flights with Sanya being the hottest destination with the fastest recovery.
Forward bookings for Chinese New Year are currently 47% behind pre-pandemic levels but already 30% ahead last year.
The pent-up demand remains high and in terms of outbound travel, Southeast Asian destinations are most likely to first benefit from the return of Chinese tourists.
All these destinations have relaxed rules for Chinese travelers. Arrivals from China will not be required to provide test results for COVID-19. Visa waiver to Indonesia, visa-on-arrival to Thailand, Cambodia, and UAE – all make it even easier to travel.
International travel bookings for the January 21-27 Lunar New Year holidays were up more than five-fold up from almost nothing the year before, when China’s borders were closed to most travelers.
Bookings for trips to Southeast Asia were up ten-fold, with Thailand being number one choice, followed by Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Indonesia.
However, the lack of flight capacity and high fares to other favorite destinations, like Bali and Australia could be the bottleneck for China’s outbound travel recovery in Q1 of 2023.
Current scheduled international flight capacity in Q1 is only at 21% of 2019’s level; and owing to approval requirements for traffic rights and airport slots, it will be difficult for airlines to gear back up very quickly.
Travel industry experts expect more significant increase when airlines schedule for the next summer season starting from March 26.
The survey results show that while recovery will start gradually in the first six months of 2023, it’s clear that outbound travel will really start to pick up in the second half of the year.
42% of survey responders said that they would travel outbound in July and August, with 32% planning an autumn Golden Week getaway outside mainland China.
The outbound China market is vital in the travel food chain so the return of the sleeping dragon in time for the Lunar New Year with promises for greater growth over the summer period will be a game changer for the travel sector in 2023.