Travel agencies have reported a huge public response to the news that, after a 172-day hiatus due to the coronavirus outbreak, China has greenlighted the resumption of tours that cross provincial boundaries.
The Ministry of Culture and Tourism announced the easing of travel restrictions in a circular published on Tuesday. According to Trip.com, a global travel agency, the search volume for tours, hotels, and flights on its platform increased dramatically. Interest in a domestic group and tailored tours increased by 500 percent, hinting at widespread public excitement at the prospect of a long-awaited vacation.
The Ministry's announcement came as China seemed to have contained the latest coronavirus outbreak, with Beijing reporting no new cases in almost two weeks.
Group travel will only be allowed to areas of the country deemed low-risk. Even so, travel agencies are looking forward to a boom in business. "It's great news for us and our customers," said Katya Bocharova, Vice President of Beijing-based travel agency FCN. "We can finally organize trips to other provinces. A lot of customers are so excited to explore different places in China."
A man surnamed Xing, an employee at the Trip.com office in People's Square, Shanghai, said his branch's phone lines and WeChat account had been swamped with inquiries from potential customers.
The circular noted that travel agencies must implement strict prevention and control measures to ensure the safety of all involved. Travelers will be required to show their health QR code when signing up for a group tour, and it will be checked again before departure.
The travel agencies are required to provide sufficient protective equipment, including masks, thermometers, and disposable gloves for drivers, tour guides, and tourists.
"It's safety first, that's why we only accept people from low-risk areas, with a green health code," said FCN's Katya Bocharova. "We also check their temperature and provide hand sanitizer and masks during the trip. And all of our buses have to be disinfected."
Since overseas travel is still banned, many Chinese tourists are opting to explore their own country this year. According to a recent microblog and WeChat survey organized by Trip.com, a record-high 88 percent of users are planning to travel to another province in China, most looking to book for July and August.
Based on demand, the majority of Trip.com's new options are focused on small, high-quality tours in low-risk areas - a sign that tourists are choosing to travel in smaller groups and to areas where they feel safe. Many are also deciding to go alone.
It's a trend that Bocharova expects to continue. "A lot of people still try to keep social distance and avoid contact with strangers, so they are more likely to travel by themselves, without travel agencies," she said.