This post was contributed by Helena Beard, the founder and managing director of specialist PR agency China Travel Outbound, and an expert in Chinese outbound tourism with over 20 years of experience in the travel and tourism industry.
As the first country to be hit by COVID-19, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that China appears to be one of the first countries to be recovering from the impact of the virus. So, what does this mean for the global tourism industry? Now that the virus appears to be close to being contained in the country, how quickly will the domestic Chinese tourism market and the China outbound tourism market recover?
Before diving into what to expect next from tourism in and out of China, it’s important to take stock of the current situation. Here are the facts you need to know:
China is about 8-10 weeks ahead of Europe in terms of both the spread and containment of the virus. At this point, there are some very strong signs that the country is well on its way to recovery; on 19 March there were no new cases of the coronavirus in China. While there have been some new cases since, from travelers returning from overseas, the virus is no longer spreading at an exponential rate in China.
Towards the end of January, all international travel from and to China was halted, and the country implemented strict isolation policies for more than six weeks. Of course, this had a massive impact on tourism within and out of China.
While many of the isolation policies have now been lifted, arrivals from overseas are still required to quarantine themselves for 14 days after entering China. Up until recently the costs of this 14-day quarantine were borne by the government, but from now on people arriving from overseas will need to quarantine themselves for 14 days at their own cost.
The effects of this? Many Chinese people will likely not leave the country, as they’ll need to quarantine themselves for 14 days after they return. This will probably mean that any holiday plans for the immediate future will only involve domestic travel.
Given that many isolation policies have been lifted and the spread of the virus appears to be contained, the travel and tourism market should start to pick up again soon. Domestic travel will lead, the FIT (Free Independent Traveler) market will follow, and the international travel group market will likely be the last to recover.
As the situation in other regions of the world, such as Europe and the US, is so uncertain, it is very difficult to predict when the China outbound tourism market will pick up again.
The uncertainty around when the international travel and tourism market will return can be tough to bear. But travel is such an important part of Chinese culture now, we can be certain that it will return. There are already many signs that indicate that the industry will recover once it’s safe, and that people are excited to get back to travelling.
A travel intention survey* conducted by China Comfort Travel Group, Aiwi Travel Consultants and the Pacific Asia Travel Association has some good news.
When asked whether or not they would still consider traveling in 2020, 60% of respondents answered that they definitely planned to go on holiday. Only 13% responded that they would not consider travelling in light of the situation, and 27% responded that they would wait and see what happened before making any travel plans.
Asked when they planned on travelling in 2020, 41% of respondents said they planned to travel but that the timing of their travel plans would depend on the situation. Meanwhile, 32% of respondents said they planned to travel over the summer holidays (which fall over July and August in China).
It’s worth noting that family trips over the summer holidays may be affected by a revised schooling schedule; as Chinese schools closed down for a significant period this year, holidays will likely be shortened.
In answer to the question ‘Where will you travel?’, more than half of the respondents said they would opt for domestic travel plans. However, 45% of respondents said they would opt for an overseas holiday. 22% picked the short city break option and 15% weren’t sure where they would travel. (Multiple options could be selected when answering this question.)
58% of respondents said they would opt for a tropical island holiday, 33% picked the culture and heritage tours option and 30% chose gourmet-themed holidays. Family holidays were a popular choice too, with 27% of respondents selecting that option.
Based on the information about the current situation and the travel intention survey, it seems safe to say that the China outbound tourism market is still interested in travel ideas and will not be dissuaded from travel in the long term. This may come as bittersweet news to many of us in the travel and tourism industry, but it should also serve as a beacon of hope and a reminder that this too shall pass. Until then, the best advice is to keep communicating with your Chinese partners, keep distributing positive brand messages and inspiring images of your destinations and attractions, and keep in touch online.
*This survey is based on information gathered from more than 30 Chinese provinces, regions and cities. The results of the survey were released on 13 March 2020.
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