April 9, 2020 / 5:43 AM / 3 months ago

Chinese stay close to home after coronavirus brought under control

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s first test of travel demand after its coronavirus outbreak was the Qingming festival last weekend, but rather than hopping on a plane or train, Shan Mingyu and five of her family drove to a resort town close to her eastern home of Yixing.

FILE PHOTO: People wearing face masks enjoy a picnic at a park during Chinese Qingming festival holiday in Beijing, amid an outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the country, China April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo

“We did not want to travel too far away and we did not want to take public transport,” said the 22-year-old student, who spent about a month cooped up at home during China’s lockdown to rein in the virus.

“At the resort, we booked a villa so the whole family could stay together. We even brought a bottle of ethanol to sterilise the place.”

The global tourism industry is closely watching trends in China for clues to travel patterns in other major markets once the virus, which has infected 1.4 million and killed 83,400 worldwide, is under control and curbs on movement are lifted.

Shan’s family is not alone in its caution even as China, where the pandemic originated late last year, pulls the virus situation under control, data from Ctrip, run by online travel giant Trip.com Group Ltd (TCOM.O), shows.

Almost all visitors to China’s top 10 tourist hotspots during the Qingming holiday were locals, said Ctrip, as travellers now prefer weekend getaways of two to three days, and travel agents are barred from running run cross-province trips.

Aviation experts expect domestic travel in most markets will recover before international travel, as is happening in China.

Domestic airline capacity in China fell slightly this week from the last as airlines try to balance available capacity against demand, data firm OAG said.

“Those green shoots of recovery (are) proving difficult to sustain, it seems,” OAG senior analyst John Grant said in a weekly update.

Tourism revenue plunged about 80% during the Qingming tomb-sweeping holiday from a year earlier, with the number of travellers falling more than 60%, data from the China Tourism Academy shows.

Travel within China is also complicated by movement curbs retained in some regions, such as Beijing, the capital, to guard against a second wave of infections from aboard.

Sherry Shen, a 29-year old finance worker in Beijing, said she had considered taking a camping trip with her boyfriend in the mountains of northwestern Qinghai province after her initial hopes of a surfing holiday in the Philippines were dashed.

“But now, I can’t even get out of Beijing, because once you return, you’re most likely to be quarantined for 14 days,” she said, adding that after such a trip she also ran the risk of being denied entry to restaurants, supermarkets and malls.

“It’s suffocating.”

Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.

Reporting by Stella Qiu and Se Young Lee in Beijing; Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Writing by Jamie Freed; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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