Outbound China travel surges for Lunar New Year but will peak in summer

China’s decision to ditch its zero-Covid policy has triggered a surge in flight bookings, according to the latest data from ForwardKeys. And it’s the intra-regional neighbours in Asia who will reap the benefits the most.

ForwardKeys China Market Analyst, Nan Dai, shared the latest figures in a joint webinar with Dragon Trail International and the consumer sentiment data aligned with the booking trends.

According to the Chinese Traveler Sentiment Report by Dragon Trail International, “more than 60% of survey respondents said they wanted to travel outside of mainland China in 2023. This group expressed high expectations about the freedom of cross-border travel this year. Survey respondents said they were excited to relax, as well as to experience scenery, food, culture, and shopping overseas.”

Immediately upon China’s official announcement about the ease of COVID controls, there was surge in bookings for domestic flights; Sanya is the hottest destination with the fastest recovery.

“Forward bookings for Chinese New Year are currently 47% behind pre-pandemic levels but already 30% ahead last year,” says Nan Dai optimistically.

The pent-up demand remains high and in terms of outbound travel, Southeast Asian destinations are most likely to first benefit from the return of Chinese tourists.

“All these destinations have relaxed rules for Chinese travellers. Arrivals from China will not be required to provide test results for COVID-19. Visa waiver to Indonesia, visa-on-arrival to Thailand, Cambodia, and UAE – all make it even easier to travel,” adds Dai.

However, the lack of flight capacity and high fares could be the bottleneck for China’s outbound travel recovery in Q1.

“Current scheduled international flight capacity in Q1 is only at 21% of 2019’s level; and owing to approval requirements for traffic rights and airport slots, it will be difficult for airlines to gear back up very quickly. We can expect more significant increase when airlines schedule for the next summer season starting from 26th of March,” shares Nan Dai.

Dragon Trail Market Research Analyst, Yelinuer Kadeerbieke adds to this: “Our survey results show that while recovery will start gradually in the first six months of 2023, it’s clear that outbound travel will really start to pick up in the second half of the year. 42% said they would travel outbound in July and August, with 32% planning an autumn Golden Week getaway outside mainland China.”

The outbound China market is vital in the travel food chain so the return of the sleeping dragon in time for the Lunar New Year with promises for greater growth over the summer period will be a game changer for the travel sector in 2023.

ForwardKeys has been a pivotal player in the travel and retail sector since 2010. Its range of innovative datasets have guided many brands, DMOs and retailers through the challenging Covid-19 period with real-time data. Learn more about Traveller Statistics and visit https://forwardkeys.com/traveller-statistics/