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CHINA. Chinese domestic travel during the forthcoming Labour Day holiday is set to “substantially” exceed pre-pandemic levels, according to research undertaken by travel data analyst ForwardKeys.

As of mid-April, total flight tickets issued for travel over the peak period, 1-5 May, were +5.8% ahead of the equivalent period in 2019 and bookings for the extended holiday period, 28 April to 9 May, were +9.8% ahead.

Offshore duty free sales in Hainan are expected to soar in the period, with bookings to Sanya currently +59.1% ahead of 2019 levels. For Haikou, bookings are +50.2% ahead of 2019 levels for travel during the extended holiday period (data as of 15 April).

Also popular are China’s capital, Beijing, and Shanghai, where the Disney Resort is celebrating its fifth birthday. Bookings for these two major cities are +31.4% and +9.7% ahead respectively.

Bookings for this crucial travel period in China have exceeded those for 2019

In recent years, Labour Day has again become a vital period for the travel and hospitality business, noted ForwardKeys. In 2008 it was cut back from a seven-day to a three-day break; but was extended to four days in 2019 and to five days in the last two years.

Fewer people will be travelling as part of a group this Spring. An analysis of passenger profiles shows that the share of group bookings is down from 17% in 2019 to 13% in 2021. By comparison, the proportion of people travelling solo or in pairs is up to 56%, compared to 52% in 2019.

The key destinations and their growth rates for the period; the surging booking figures for Sanya and Haikou are highly encouraging for the offshore duty free business in Hainan. Click to enlarge.

In January, a resurgence of COVID-19 caused a substantial setback in domestic travel, with arrivals diving -69% compared to 2019, said ForwardKeys. However, containment of the disease and innovative travel promotions have stimulated a revival. Surprise destination promotions, known locally as “blind boxes”, in which the traveller purchases a flight ticket to an unknown or surprise destination for a very cheap price, typically US$10-15, have been a big hit, it said.

Following the launch of “plane ticket blind boxes” by in March, more than 10 million people took up the offer in a sale coinciding with the Qingming festival in early April, although not all purchases converted into flight tickets.

Other leading online travel agents, such as Ctrip, Fliggy and Qunar, followed in the third week of April and has just completed a further round of blind box offers. The promotions have created considerable interest among young audiences on social media platforms, added ForwardKeys.

Although outbound travel is restricted, Labour Day holiday demand for Macau stands at 75% of pre-pandemic levels.

ForwardKeys VP Insights Olivier Ponti said: “This year’s record-breaking Labour Day domestic travel is down to three factors: the release of pent-up demand, control of COVID-19 and imaginative marketing.”

Note: Every fortnight The Moodie Davitt Report publishes Hainan Curated, in association with Foreo, a curated selection of all recent stories from the offshore duty free sector. Click here to subscribe free of charge and to view all back issues.

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