China

Chinese tourists, gripped by coronavirus fears, scale back domestic travel plans

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People are seen on Sanya Bay beach against the backdrop of Phoenix Island resort in Sanya, Hainan province, China November 26, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo

BEIJING, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Chinese tourists, millions of whom have shunned overseas travel this year because of the global pandemic, are further narrowing the scope of their journeys, visiting nearby cities and avoiding trips out of their provinces.

Recent cases of the novel coronavirus in Beijing and northern China have rekindled public concern, already shaken by calls to avoid non-essential travel during the festive season between Jan. 1 and the start of Lunar New Year in mid-February.

Millions of domestic tourists travel in the week before and after Jan. 1 in a typical year.

Although hotel bookings for the upcoming three-day New Year weekend had reached 1.8 times of bookings a year earlier as of Dec. 24, plane tickets were nearly 20% cheaper on average, with many people not travelling far, Beijing-based online travel platform Qunar.com said.

"The trend is taking a train to visit cities within the reach of one hour," the company said.

The hottest train tickets are for trips between Chengdu and Chongqing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and Shanghai and Hangzhou, according to Qunar.com.

Huang Li said she decided against going to Sanya, on the southern island of Hainan, after the government told people to avoid unnecessary travel.

"I'm not sure if my son would be allowed to attend classes in his kindergarten if we leave Beijing," said Huang, 40. "Too many uncertainties. We might be asked to do nucleic acid tests."

The Chinese capital has cancelled large-scale events, including the 2021 Beijing Book Fair, and ordered travel agencies not to sell packages for the city during the New Year and Lunar New Year holidays.

Many other cities have followed suit.

Shenzhen and Dalian have told residents not to leave "unless necessary", while businesses have been ordered not to organise gatherings.

In central Hubei province, where the pandemic first began, locals were told to stay indoors and cap family gatherings at 10 people.

Zhou Weihong, deputy general manager at Spring Tour, the travel arm of Shanghai-based Spring Group, said her agency had rolled out new offerings aimed at local tourism.

"Around Shanghai, there are many splendid things people can do, and there are great hotels and hot springs," Zhou said.

Not travellers all are about to cancel trips to faraway destinations.

Beijing resident Cai Dong, 34, and his wife are flying to Sanya this week.

"It isn't worth ruining my planned holiday just because of a handful of cases," Cai said.

Reporting by Sophie Yu and Ryan Woo. Editing by Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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