Airlines and tour agencies launch new flights, trips and services to meet big demand
With the five-day May Day holiday — April 29 to May 3 — fast approaching, more and more Chinese consumers are expected to embark on outbound journeys, with Thailand, New Zealand and the Maldives remaining their most popular destinations even as the Middle East and Europe grow in popularity, tourism industry insiders said.
In January, after three years of COVID-19 disruptions, China optimized its pandemic response measures and restarted quarantine-free cross-border travel. Ever since, Chinese tourists have shown an increasing willingness to explore unconventional destinations. The trend is expected to bring significant benefits that can deepen the recovery of the outbound tourism business of travel agencies, they said.
Owing to the impact of the international situation, the Middle East is expected to emerge as a key tourism destination as more Chinese have shown a growing interest in traveling to the region.
On March 10, China, Saudi Arabia and Iran issued a joint statement in Beijing, stating that Saudi Arabia and Iran had agreed to resume diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies and missions within two months.
Currently, there are direct flights available that connect a Chinese mainland city with Teheran in Iran, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
China has resumed outbound group tours to 60 countries, and most of them have canceled the requirements of providing negative nucleic acid test results. That signifies progress made since early 2020, when China's outbound group travel market was halted due to the pandemic, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
The first list of 20 countries was unveiled in early February, followed by the second list of 40 destinations in March. Travel agencies and online tourism service providers can offer group tours to these destinations, the ministry said.
"Many overseas destinations in the second list boast huge potential to attract Chinese travelers. In the past month, we have received a large number of inquires about travel to Iran and other countries in the Middle East. Demand for group tours to Vietnam, Nepal and Latin American countries is also on the rise," said Li Peng, director of long-haul outbound tourism at Tuniu Corp, a Nanjing, Jiangsu province-based online travel agency.
"With further recovery of the market and outbound tourists' emerging demand, travel agencies have more preparations to make in order to develop more travel products and resources, and raise the quality of their services," Li said.
This year, expanding consumption is a priority for the government that is keen to help speed up consumption recovery and growth. China's services sector witnessed an accelerated recovery in the first two months, and the index gauging the country's services sector's output rose 5.5 percent year-on-year during the period, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
The tourism segment, as part of the larger consumption market, is on track to a faster recovery given the trend of further opening-up, experts said. Tongcheng Travel, a Suzhou, Jiangsu province-based online travel agency, said demand for overseas trips had been rising even during shorter holidays such as the period around Qingming Festival, or Tomb Sweeping Day, that fell on last Wednesday. Southeast Asia was the most popular destination.
Tongcheng Travel also found that Chinese tourists have shown a big interest in going on group tours to the Middle East. Most trips to the Middle East last six to 10 days, and the lowest price of a full package tour is about 6,000 yuan ($873) per person, the firm said.
Meanwhile, more international airlines are ramping up their operations in China to meet growing demand. On March 26, China's air travel market started its summer flying season, with some schedule adjustments compared with the winter flying season. More than 20 carriers had plans to launch or resume international and regional flights from Beijing Daxing International Airport.
For instance, China Southern Airlines planned to launch flights from Beijing Daxing to Amsterdam, Seoul and Osaka. Air Macau resumed flights between Beijing Daxing and Macao. Etihad Airways and Air Asia launched services from Beijing Daxing to Abu Dhabi and Kuala Lumpur, respectively.
On March 26, Doha-based Qatar Airways became the first Middle Eastern carrier to launch daily nonstop flights between Doha and Beijing Daxing, marking the resumption of passenger services between the capitals of Qatar and China for the first time since the pandemic broke out three years ago.
After the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha, Chinese travelers' interest to visit Qatar has been high. After China restarted quarantine-free international travel in January, demand has increased and the occupancy rates of flights that connect the two countries have been satisfactory. Both inbound and outbound flights are highly occupied, the airline said.
"We have attached significance to the China market and are confident in its growth potential. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Qatar, and we will further contribute to the trade, cultural and personnel communications between the two countries," said Chan Cheong Eu, Qatar Airways' senior manager for North Asia.
Beijing is the fifth Chinese city to be served by Qatar Airways after the pandemic. The other four are Shanghai, Hong Kong, Guangzhou in Guangdong province and Hangzhou in Zhejiang province. The airline serves as the largest Gulf carrier to operate in China based on overall frequencies. In addition, the airline hopes to resume its flights between Doha and Chongqing, and Chengdu, Sichuan province, this year.
Hao Ling, deputy general manager of Beijing Daxing International Airport, said: "Our partnership with Qatar Airways will strengthen our vision to become a preferred air hub for leisure and business travelers in the region and beyond. The flights will also provide convenient services for passengers from Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province."
Besides, Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, began its first scheduled flight between Abu Dhabi and Beijing Daxing on March 28, shifting its services from Beijing Capital International Airport. This year also marks the 15th anniversary of Etihad Airways' services in China and its Abu Dhabi-Beijing route.
"With China's reopening and the restart of the aviation and tourism industries, we are very glad to see the long overdue move of our scheduled services to Beijing Daxing, which will further strengthen our commitment to the country's aviation market development and Chinese travelers," said Arik De, chief revenue officer of Etihad Airways.
From today, Tianjin Airlines will resume international flights to Japan that connect Tianjin and Tokyo and Nagoya, and add more frequencies of flights that connect Tianjin and Osaka. The new plan will bring the weekly flights between Tianjin and cities in Japan to more than 20, and help contribute to economic, trade and cultural exchanges. The additional flights are also expected to boost the growth of tourism services between the two countries, the carrier said.