China tourism numbers bounce back during Labour Day holiday

Chinese travellers flocked to the country’s major tourist sites over the May Day holiday in one of the clearest signs yet of a return to normality in the country where the coronavirus pandemic started.

There were more than 50m tourism trips within the country on Friday and Saturday, according to figures cited by state media. That meant that two days into the five-day break, which ends on Tuesday, the number of journeys has overtaken the total over the three-day Qing Ming festival in early April.

Higher volumes of travellers will boost hopes that China’s economy, which contracted year-on-year for the first time in over four decades in the first quarter of 2020, is beginning to shake off the impact of coronavirus at a time when new cases remain low.

But despite signs of improvement on earlier this year, total numbers over the May Day holiday are expected to remain far below the same period in 2019, when people made nearly 200m trips.

“On a year-on-year basis, if we look at it from a retail sales perspective, or consumption, or services, it’s still a contraction,” said Iris Pang, greater China economist at ING. 

She said, however, the May Day holiday could encourage people who were still reluctant to leave their homes to “restart their normal lives”.

In China’s biggest cities, some major attractions were reopened after long closures due to coronavirus. In Beijing, the Forbidden City was partially open for the first time since January 25 but total ticket sales were limited to maintain social distancing measures.

Last week, the Chinese capital announced that people arriving from most other parts of the country would no longer have to spend two weeks in quarantine, which had made normal business and tourism travel impossible. Beijing was still restricting access to cinemas and theatres, state media said on Sunday.

Shanghai’s main tourist attractions received more than 1m visitors on Friday and Saturday combined, Xinhua said. Tourist sites in the city are supposed to take in at most 30 per cent of their capacity, while visitors are required to wear face masks.

On Friday, China Railway carried 7.4m passengers, the highest daily number recorded since the Lunar New Year in February.

China reported just two cases of coronavirus to the end of Saturday, of which one was imported from abroad. A day earlier, the country’s health authorities had reported zero new domestic cases.

Over the past month, concerns have arisen over a potential second wave in the country, especially in Heilongjiang, a province in China’s north-east. 

Additional reporting by Nicolle Liu in Hong Kong

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