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Special Report: hotels re-open and travel booking searches surge in China as Coronavirus tapers off

China is seeing a surge in interest for both corporate and leisure travel as hotels re-open and the nation starts to get back to normal in the wake of the COVID-19 virus tapering off in the country. James Wilkinson reports.

Yesterday, China recorded its lowest number of deaths since the Coronavirus outbreak and no new infections for the second day in a row, while Wuhan – the epicenter of the global crisis – saw no new infections for the fifth day.

At the same time as the nation has fast-tracked the pace of opening tourist spots and parks, eased lockdowns and lowered emergency response levels in cities like Shanghai, Chinese travellers have been looking with increased interest in trips to domestic destinations.

The nation’s hotels have started getting back to business, with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) reporting that 118 have re-opened, with 60 hotels closed compared to 178 at the peak.

“In recent days [IHG has] begun to see improvements in occupancy, albeit at low levels,” the company said.

According to the latest data from intelligence provider ADARA, there is more good news for the travel sector, with “promising signs for a rebound in flights within China and to China from international origins that align with the trajectory of the pandemic”.

Over the past two weeks, ADARA says it has seen an uptick in the number of unique travellers searching for flights and accommodation, in a sign that the Chinese market is looking to get back on the road over the coming months.

ADARA says unique searchers were up 29% for the week of March 8th compared to the week of March 1st.

“The number of total searches follows a similar pattern,” the company says. “The total number of searches for flights to China (both domestic and international inbound) is currently 55% of the volume of searches seen in the week of January 5th, up from a low of 34% in mid-February.

“The average number of searches per searcher has increased in the past month, with an average of five to six searches per unique searcher.”

In another positive sign that China is looking to get back to business quickly, the percentage of flights searched for corporate travel has almost doubled since pre-COVID-19 levels – which is currently 38% versus 20% in early January.

“We are seeing subtle but meaningful changes across flight bookings and searches for China travel. While it is too early to predict any long-term patterns, these insights serve to help travel brands better understand how quickly the market shifts as the Coronavirus evolves,” says ADARA CMO, Carolyn Corda.

The search results from ADARA come as The South China Morning Post reports that two major Chinese booking sites have recommenced selling domestic travel packages and attraction tickets.

The Post says Qunar and Ctrip, two of China’s biggest online travel service providers, have resumed bookings for travel packages and attraction tickets after a two-month hiatus.

A spokeswoman for Qunar told The Post that customers can now book pre-sale travel packages for April and May on the company’s app and website.

“Qunar is now offering 1,000 domestic travel packages for regions including Shanghai, Xinjiang and Sichuan, based on the respective local government guidelines for the resumption of tourism,” according to The Post.

Ctrip started selling travel packages and attraction tickets on its app last week, according to The Post, with tickets to 1,449 well-known tourist spots across the country now available online while 40 per cent of China’s top national tourist spots have reopened.

“The reopening of tourist spots has provided the ground for the recovery of the tourism industry,” Ctrip Group Vice-President Yu Xiaojiang, told The Post, adding that the platform has seen increasing numbers of domestic travel agencies resume business and they are offering a variety of tours on its app.

Interestingly, The Post also reported “for the full year of 2020, Analysys is forecasting that the proportion of domestic tourism in the country’s overall holiday travel market will increase to 60 per cent from 47 per cent last year, with that number dependent on how long international travel restrictions remain in place”.

Both of the travel providers also reported a rebound in consumer confidence when it comes to travel, which was effectively shut down in China at the height of the coronavirus crisis in the country.

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