China's tourism industry hit hard as COVID-19 cases surge during summer holiday
By Xie Hongzhou

China's summer tourism has taken a big hit as local authorities ask people to avoid inter-provincial traveling. Following the latest wave of COVID-19 cases, the government has imposed restrictions on travel and shut down tourist spots in cities with medium and high-risk areas.

The country's tourism industry was hoping for a big recovery at this summer holiday, but the spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus has put an end to those hopes. Many travel agencies have lost almost all their bookings for the travel season. 

"Ninety percent of our recent orders are gone. We're dealing with a large amount of refunds," said Zhen Hao, president of travel agency Easytour. "Before the (virus) outbreak, we were very confident about the summer season and ready to recover our losses. But now, it's all gone."

Official data shows the first half of 2021 saw only a 60 percent recovery in the number of domestic tourists for the same period in 2019. After a stricken 2020, tourism operators saw this summer holiday as a long-awaited opportunity. 

Han Jie, vice president of CYTS AOYOU, one of the major travel agencies in China, told CGTN that summer holidays are normally the longest and most profitable time for the industry.

"Summer holidays are prime time for family travels. And it is the longest travel season for the whole year," Han added, "We've developed so many family tour packages for the summer. Bookings were very hot, especially for places like Tibet, Xinjiang and Hainan.”

People visit the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, August 4, 2021. /CFP

People visit the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, August 4, 2021. /CFP

To recover some of the losses, travel agencies say they have to shift their focus to tours in the city and suburbs, which are less affected by travel curbs but also less profitable. 

Since last year, the coronavirus pandemic has folded thousands of travel companies in China. And the surviving ones still have to suffer nearly zero-income whenever domestic cases arise. 

Zhen Hao, vice president of Beijing Association of Travel Agencies, feared the industry will lose more companies in the future. 

"Some of us have to resort to online sales of our cultural and specialty products. This year has been tough on tourism operators. A lot of us might not be able to hold on," Zhen said. "We really hope the government can provide more subsidies, policies, loans and resources while trying to contain the pandemic."

Some travel agents told CGTN that many of their colleagues have left or are thinking of leaving the industry due to uncertain prospects amid the pandemic. This has left agencies worried that a lack of talent in the near future will create more challenges for the still recovering industry.

(Cover: Visitors wearing masks explore Hefei Science and Technology Museum in east China's Anhui Province, August 5, 2021. /CFP)

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