The interest for travel to mainland China has bounced back since the country resumed foreign visa applications, an analysis of China’s largest online travel platform Trip.com finds.
The Chinese OTA (overseas travel agent) giant notes that the strong growth came over the month since China resumed issuing all types of visas for foreign nationals, which came into effect on March 15th. The much-awaited move saw an influx of bookings as “travelers sought to rediscover China once again”.
Analysis of Trip.com data shows that international travelers’ interest in mainland China “increased significantly” in the last few weeks compared to the same period in 2019. The new edition of the firm’s “TripTrends series” finds that international users searching for hotels in mainland China on their platform (both website and app) was up 126 percent compared to the same period in 2019, with a seven-fold increase on 2022 levels. The data target the travel period of 15 March 2023 to 14 April 2023. China hotel bookings by international travelers also followed the same trend, rising by a third (32 percent) compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Despite flights operating to Chinese cities recovering year-on-year, bookings are still ramping up, sitting around a quarter (26 percent) below 2019 levels due to constrained supply.
UK and US travelers show increasing interest
According to the latest analysis, travelers from Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, the UK, the US, Japan and Singapore made the most flight bookings to mainland China last month, confirming that pent-up demand for travel to the region is being spent.
These markets have evolved since the pandemic, with the outbound destinations making the most Chinese mainland flight bookings in 2019 being Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and Australia.
Interestingly, “neither the UK nor the US featured in the top list for flight bookings to mainland China pre-pandemic, but in the last month have shown significant growth for inbound travel to the region”, notes Trip.com.
Leisure destinations are all the rage
Data show that travelers are also keen to re-explore China’s most famous tourism hotspots, with Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou being the most popular flight destinations – the same as in 2019. Xiamen, the southeast beach city, and Chengdu, home of the Giant Panda, have also seen strong inbound growth, rising to fourth and fifth, respectively, as the industry continues to see growth in the premium leisure sector.
Travelers turned to last-minute bookings throughout the pandemic due to ever-changing travel restrictions, but the latest data show this has now reverted back to pre-pandemic levels.
Back in 2019, Trip.com users booked their hotel stays around four days in advance of their stay; however, data from the last month show that the 2023 booking window has grown to six days, as customers gain confidence in the market and look to get value for money. The same trend can be seen for those booking air travel, with Trip.com travelers now booking flights 15 days in advance – up from 14 days pre-pandemic.
These encouraging figures are echoed across the Asia-Pacific region, with bookings to Japan and Korea also recording strong year-on-year growth.
Impact for Macau
While the only top tourism hotspot located near Macau is Guangzhou, the increase in foreign inbound travel bodes well for Macau’s plans to capture more international visitors, while setting up multi-city tour packages for cities within the Greater Bay Area.
Government officials and analysts have pointed out that Macau can take advantage of nearby non-gaming facilities – including entertainment, hotel rooms and MICE venues, to complement the city’s current offerings, allowing for the greater tourism visitation mix