DestinationsChina's reopening has led to swift spike in flight bookings despite high air fares, but full resurgence of the outbound market won't be back until Q2.

When China stirs, the world of travel beholds

ForwardKeys' Olivier Ponti predicts that the Chinese travellers will come back in full force by Q2.
ForwardKeys' Olivier Ponti predicts that the Chinese travellers will come back in full force by Q2. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock/Jarek

Flight bookings have surged in the wake of China's reopening, according to ForwardKeys' latest data.

On 3 January, domestic flight bookings during the upcoming Chinese New Year period (7 Jan - 15 Feb) were recorded at 71% behind 2019 and 8% behind 2022, with the most popular destinations being Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Kunming, Sanya, Shenzhen, Haikou, Guangzhou and Chongqing.

China planned to ramp up its airline capacity to 70% of pre-pandemic levels by 6 January, and to increase it again to 88% by 31 January.

However it will take some time for the country to fully restore its flight capacity with the current shortage of trained manpower.

Between 26 December and 3 January, outbound flight bookings soared 192% compared to the same period in 2022, but they still remain 85% behind pre-pandemic levels.

ForwardKey's data also revealed that the most popular destinations for Chinese travellers currently are: Macau, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Frankfurt.

Abu Dhabi, which serves as an international air hub between China and the West clocked in at 51% behind 2019. From Abu Dhabi, 11% of the travellers will go to Paris, 9% to Barcelona, 5% to London, 3% to Munich and 3% to Manchester.

Some 67% of bookings made between 26 December and 3 January were for travel during the Chinese New Year period, which is described by Olivier Ponti, VP insights of ForwardKeys, as the period where international travel rebounds for the first time in three years.

Despite these findings though, Ponti warns that "we will need to wait longer before we see a resurgence in Chinese tourists exploring the globe" for two reasons:
1. Lack of international flight capacity which only stands at 10% of 2019 levels
2. Increasing air fares that cost approximately 160% higher than pre-pandemic prices
3. Multiple countries that have rolled out Covid-19 restrictions and testing requirements specifically for travellers from China

"Right now, we expect the Chinese outbound market will pick up strongly in Q2 2023, when airlines schedule capacity for the spring and summer, which include the May holiday, Dragon Boat festival in June and summer holidays," Ponti concludes.

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