With China loosening nation-wide travel restrictions in time for the Labor Day holiday and major travel websites recording a spike of activity across late-April, a certain optimism hovers over the world’s largest travel market. And yet, with 2020’s May Day holiday numbers down by 70 percent and tourist destinations capped at 30 percent capacity, uncertainty and anxiety linger.

To gain a clearer picture of the “rebound” and the emerging forces shaping the future of China’s travel industry, Jing Travel spoke to China marketing expert Ashley Dudarenok, Founder of ChoZan and Alarice.

Health and Safety

The prioritization of health will determine Chinese travel decisions and trends for the foreseeable future.

With restaurants, shopping malls, and scenic sites requiring visitors to wear masks and practice social distancing, as well as employing health monitoring certifications, a new set travel norms are being established and will be expected when Chinese begin travelling internationally.

Group travel is taking a two-fold hit. First, the appeal of joining a group of strangers in confined spaces lacks appeal at the present. Second, older travelers, a staple of the group travel market, will be more reluctant to travel over the coming months than younger generations.

Remote, scenic destinations will recover faster. The popularity of China’s outer provinces, such as Tibet and Yunnan, had already been on the rise and this trend will continue through 2020 — according to travel platform Lvmama, these provinces recovered more than 50 percent of losses over last month’s Tomb Sweeping Festival compared with 2019.

Key quote: “From the health status of staff to the food-buying process, keep every step transparent and the monitoring system comprehensive” — Ashley Dudarenok

Digital Trends

From curator-led live streams inside Beijing’s Forbidden Palace to the head of Ctrip dressing up in traditional garb to sell package trips (sales reached 22 million RMB), the past months have seen an industry-wide embrace of connecting content created on social media platforms to commerce.

The trend of allowing potential visitors to “experience” destinations whether through VR, 3D panoramas, or live stream videos has now become somewhat expected and a flood of presale packages sold in recent weeks have harnessed such technologies.

While the prospect of welcoming Chinese travelers remains a distant reality for many global destinations, understanding and implementing these forms of engagement is essential and should be part of social media strategy.

Key quote: “People don’t have the time or money to travel, so online tours have become a daily pastime and will likely improve tourism conversion rates later.” — Ashley Dudarenok

Potala Palace

Tibet’s Potala Palace held its first live stream on March 1 drawing 920,000 viewers across the one-hour broadcast.

Governmental Support

Although consumer sentiment and financial confidence will prove the dominant factors in determining the extent to which China’s domestic market rebounds, government policy will play a vital supporting role.

Following a mid-April meeting, China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism encouraged provinces to release digital tourism coupons to boost spending over the upcoming Labor Day holiday. Created in cooperation with online payment platforms WeChat Pay and Alipay as well as travel providers such as Ctrip, to date more than 30 provinces have used the scheme — Wuhan, for example, has offered 19.8 million RMB ($2.8 million) in coupons and Beijing’s Cultural Assets Administration issued 50 million RMB in e-vouchers to boost cultural consumption.

Financial stimuli run parallel to extending holidays. October’s National Day holiday has already been extended and several provinces are experimenting with turning Fridays into half-days.

Key quote: “We can see obvious policy support strongly encouraging people to travel and consume during the five-day Labor Day holiday and the eight-day National Day holiday in October”— Ashley Dudarenok