Short-haul tourism popular for China's Labor Day holiday
By Lin Nan
02:53

With COVID-19 becoming a memory across China, and the spring sunshine and warmth here to stay for a while, the travel bug is biting.

The Labor Day holiday is expected to mark 2020's first travel "boom" in China, according to a report from trip.com, China's largest online travel services provider. The report says travel figures will possibly double those of the Qingming Festival in April, which saw over 43 million trips and an income of more than 8.2 billion yuan (1.2 billion U.S. dollars).

Coinciding with the gradual easing of travel restrictions, the five-day holiday marks a significant milestone for recovery of the tourism industry. But rather than travel long distances, many across the country are taking shorter trips, going places closer to home, and having fun just the same.

Qushui Garden is recognized as one of Shanghai's top five classical gardens. Located in one of the city's suburban areas, it remains a hidden gem to many locals. But with the easing of recent travel restrictions, it is enjoying an uptick in visits.

Qushui Garden has been a hidden gem to many locals in Shanghai until recently, when long-distance travel restriction is still in place. /CGTN

Qushui Garden has been a hidden gem to many locals in Shanghai until recently, when long-distance travel restriction is still in place. /CGTN

"We tended to travel overseas or go to somewhere faraway, and didn't experience the beauty of Shanghai very well. There is a lot of beautiful scenery nearby to explore," said Qiu Min, a Shanghai resident.

People across China still have to stay at home and limit their activities to avoid spreading the coronavirus. They are longing to go outdoors again and make the most of the spring sunshine and warmth.

"This is my first trip since the pandemic began. The weather is great today, and I am really happy to see this after staying indoors for so long," said Sun Ruiying, a Shanghai resident.

Returning tourists mean more jobs for residents in that area.

"My schedule was fully booked through April, had there been no pandemic. All tours were canceled since the start of the Chinese New Year, and we had nothing to do for months until early April, when short-distance travel was again allowed," Zhang Jun, a tour guide of Spring Tour, said.

City tours and local trips with various themes are getting popular during the Labor Day holiday in Shanghai. /Photo provided by Spring Tour

City tours and local trips with various themes are getting popular during the Labor Day holiday in Shanghai. /Photo provided by Spring Tour

The tourism industry in China has been hit hard since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. But now it is recovering as the country is gradually relaxing travel restrictions.

"I was unable to do business during the worst of the pandemic. It is getting back on track, and I hope it will be better over the Labor Day holiday," Xu Lianmei, an owner of food stall, said.

Travelers have shifted their sights from inter-provincial and outbound travel to short-distance tourism, as long-distance travel is still not allowed.

Spring Tour is a major travel agency in China. Sales of its city tours and local trips in Shanghai has doubled that of 2019. Although its profit is relatively low, it has boosted the confidence of the company.

"We hope these local trips will create jobs to help guides earn a living, as well as maintain the loyalty of our customers," said Zhou Weihong, Deputy General Manager of Spring Tour. "Preventing further pandemics may become the tourism norm for a while, and we can use the short-haul travel as a trial before the country removes travel restrictions fully."

Tourists have their temperatures taken before boarding sightseeing buses in Shanghai. /Photo provided by Spring Tour

Tourists have their temperatures taken before boarding sightseeing buses in Shanghai. /Photo provided by Spring Tour

The pandemic has changed people's travel habits. Reserving tickets for popular spots, renting cars or hiring private guides are becoming new trends and may reshape the industry in the long term.

In response to restrictions on mass-gatherings and movement, popular tourist attractions have implemented reservation systems to keep visitor traffic below 30 percent of maximum capacity.

Booking numbers for smaller (3-6 participants), shorter (4-day and 3-day) and local group tours, using private cars and tour guides, have increased exponentially on Trip.com Group platforms.

Car rentals have been identified as a popular mode of transport this year, with reservations to date reaching 70 percent of the same figure last year, owing to the privacy, cleanliness and freedom of car travel.

"The pandemic has presented a great challenge for all of us," said Trip.com Group Chairman James Liang. "However, travel is a resilient and important industry, and coupled with the easing of restrictions as the pandemic is contained in China, a shift towards new, innovative modes of tourism is driving promising growth over the upcoming holiday, and indicative of new heights for the industry in the near future."