The search volume for international plane tickets soared on Chinese travel portals after China's top health authority announced on Monday that China will cancel COVID-19 tests and scrap quarantine requirements for international arrivals starting January 8, 2023.
The National Health Commission (NHC) said in a statement that passengers traveling to China need to take nucleic acid test within 48 hours before boarding their flights to China, adding that nucleic acid screenings and centralized isolation on arrival will be canceled.
"In light of the international COVID-19 epidemic situation and service capacity, the outbound travel of Chinese citizens will be resumed in an orderly manner," NHC said.
Within 15 minutes of the new exit-entry measures announced by NHC, the instant search volume for international plane tickets on travel portal Qunar surged by seven times, with popular destinations including Thailand, Japan and South Korea.
Data from another travel platform Ctrip showed that within 30 minutes of the new measures' being released, the number of searches for popular overseas destinations surged by 10 times year-on-year, and the number of searches for outbound air tickets and overseas hotels (including those to Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Macao Special Administrative Region and Taiwan region) both reached three-year peaks.
Ctrip's data also showed that the number of searches related to outbound and group tour products during the upcoming Spring Festival of the Year of the Rabbit jumped six times.
And on Tongcheng Travel, another online travel agency, the instantaneous search volume of international air tickets increased by 850 percent in wake of the new measures and visa searches jumped tenfold.
The top three destinations for Chinese tourists were Japan, South Korea and Thailand. The most searched outbound flights were to Bangkok, Tokyo, Seoul, Los Angeles and Singapore, and the majority of the searches for outbound tourism come from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Tongcheng Travel's data showed.
In terms of air tickets, data from Qunar shows that compared with the average price before the COVID-19 epidemic, international air tickets are still expensive.
"The adjustment of entry-exit policies helps promote the orderly resumption of international flights, and the number of inbound and outbound passengers will rebound in the short term," said Lan Xiang, director of Qunar's Big Data Research Institute.
Noting the international air ticket prices are still high in comparison to the average price before the COVID-19 epidemic outbreak, Lan said the overall price of international air tickets will be gradually reduced with the gradual normalization of the supply and demand of inbound and outbound air tickets.
"It will take some time for the overall international flights to return to normal levels," said Lan, adding that the summer vacation of 2023 may usher in the peak of entry and exit with the implementation of the policy and the recovery of airline operating capacity.
As China constantly optimizes its COVID-19 prevention and control measures, Ctrip visa data showed that since December 7, the number of overseas visa applicants has increased more than 12 times compared with last year, with Singapore, Japan, South Korea, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia being very popular.
"The release of the new regulation ensures a more smooth cross-border travel environment from policy level and will effectively mobilize tourists' willingness to travel," said Fang Zeqian, Ctrip Research Institute industry analyst.
"The spring of outbound travel has arrived."
In addition, NHC said in the statement that China has renamed the novel coronavirus pneumonia as novel coronavirus infection.
China will also downgrade management of the disease from Class A to Class B in accordance with the Law of the People's Republic of China on Prevention and Treatment of Infectious Disease, starting January 8, the statement added.
(Cover: A passenger flight from Tianjin to Belgrade, Serbia, lands at Tianjin Binhai Airport in Tianjin, China, December 10, 2022. /CFP)