Tourist-starved Chinese regions struggling

Beijing – As China’s domestic tourism unravels, desperate provinces are slashing ticket prices, offering tax breaks, and even begging locals to help save plummeting tourist earnings in a sector that employs tens of millions of people.

The slump in tourism – which includes travel, accommodation and catering – has persisted into this year because of wider COVID-related curbs on inter-province travel, lockdowns, and endless mass testing, official data showed.

Particularly hurt are provinces that lean on tourism for growth such as Hainan and Yunnan, as well as northern regions with smaller windows of mild, tourist-friendly weather.

The downturn has worsened in recent months as the Omicron variant took hold, leaving the industry in its worst state since before the pandemic and boding ill for a sector that contributed 11.05 per cent to China’s gross domestic product three years ago and supported nearly 80 million jobs, or 10 per cent of all employment.

Tian Yun, a former economist at the state economic planning agency, said he expected inter-province trips to resume during the three-day Dragon Boat Festival holiday in early June.

“If inter-province trips are banned during the Dragon Boat Festival, this year’s tourism and related consumption will be in chaos,” Tian said.

A continued tourism freeze may remove at least 0.5 percentage points from China’s 2022 GDP growth, he said. The government has set a growth target of about 5.5 per cent this year.

Factors keeping tourists away include dramatic cuts in passenger flights and sudden cancellations.

The number of weekly flights domestically stands at a little over 35 000 flights, according to aviation data provider, VariFlight, the lowest in 22 years.

Amid the travel curbs, tourists from other provinces accounted for only 5 per cent of visitors at scenic spots across China during the Tomb Sweeping holiday in early April, official data showed.

Hohhot, capital of the northern Chinese region of Inner Mongolia and known for its verdant grasslands, saw the number of tourist trips drop by half during the holiday. Tourism revenue fell 53.5 per cent.

Even the southern island province of Hainan, dubbed China’s Hawaii with its year-round balmy weather, was not spared.

The number of tourist trips to Sanya, a beach destination in Hainan, dived 99.4 per cent during the holiday, official statistics showed. Sanya’s hotel occupancy rates averaged 12.6 per cent.

Even in a bigger province like Yunnan, where leisure travel accounted for 90 per cent of the services sector three years agp, authorities had to roll out measures such as tax cuts to help travel companies.

To lure local visitors, the picturesque city of Dali, a major destination in Yunnan, on Friday started giving out 10 million consumption vouchers. Prices of tickets to scenic spots were also cut.


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