China Tourist

A billion staycations

With foreign trips off limits, ‘Golden Week’ domestic tourism surges


Chaos at Beijing West station

In 2019 Chinese tourists made some 170 million trips abroad. Now, thanks to Covid-19, a foreign holiday isn’t an option. The result is a trend that the government has tried to encourage for some time – a surge in domestic tourism.

The week-long May Day holiday period was proof of that. Local tourists flocked to historic sites, rural homestays, theme parks and fancy city hotels for a change of scene.

One popular option was ‘Red Tourism’ in the centenary year of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. According to the travel site Ctrip, searches for tours commemorating the country’s revolutionary past rose 375% compared to the May holiday period last year.

“Nowadays, young people in China would like to explore the history of the revolution in China and the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) because they are curious and have great admiration after seeing China’s development in recent years, especially after experiencing how China successfully contained the epidemic,” Su Wei, a professor at a Party school in Chongqing, explained to the Global Times.

CNN has also noted the uptick in visitors to more rural areas, quoting one Sina Weibo contributor as saying she was much happier after “spending a day picking mulberries, watching rice grow and eating homegrown food”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly Shanghai Disneyland and the Forbidden City in Beijing sold all their available tickets long before the holidays began.

The Labour Day holiday was the first time that mainland Chinese were encouraged to travel freely en masse this calendar year. Over Chinese New Year in February people were widely discouraged from travelling because the country was still trying to contain an outbreak of the coronavirus in the northeast.

Yet even as the travel trade celebrated a record-breaking ‘Golden Week’ – domestic trips were up 18% to 230 million – many tourists were complaining that their holidays had been marred by transport delays, overcrowding and poor facilities at their destination.

In one extreme example, a 260 metre-high glass bridge in Jilin shattered in high winds, leaving one poor visitor dangling on a girder for more than 30 minutes – fearing for his life – while a rescue was mounted. (We’ve written several times about China’s glass bridge building binge, with around 2,300 of them erected in scenic spots. Used to lure tourists there has been recurrent concerns about their engineering, with the Ministry of Tourism and Culture ordering a safety review in 2019; see WiC473).

Others trying to leave Beijing had to contend with crowds and chaos at the city’s western railway station, after bad weather and what were termed ‘foreign objects’ on the track led to mass cancellations.

A total of 24 trains were suspended from service last Saturday and tens of thousands of passengers were stranded at Beijing West Station by lengthy delays. It was a rare example of China’s high-speed railways being anything less than ruthlessly efficient and led Xinhua to chastise the station’s emergency planning. It even afforded a public apology from the railway station’s management body.

Chinese airlines were also delayed during the busy period, partly as a result of high winds and storms. May 3, the worst day for cancellations, saw 2,613 flights dropped from the schedule.

Various theme parks and historic sites also reported overcrowding, leading to long waits at entry points and crowds demanding their money back.“These incidents unveil the poor management of many scenic spots in China in many aspects, such as emergency response planning,” Yang Jinsong, a senior researcher at the China Tourism Academy, told the Global Times.

Meanwhile, moviegoers flocked to cinemas as a dozen new films hit the screens, bringing the box-office take to more than Rmb1.5 billion ($232.39 million) by the end of the holiday period.

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