ForwardKeys Tracks Surge In China Flight Bookings

According to ForwardKeys, China’s decision to ditch its zero-Covid policy has triggered a surge in flight bookings.

On Dec. 7, Chinese authorities announced that a negative PCR test would no longer be required for air travel between provinces. Domestic flight bookings immediately surged 56% on the previous week and continued to increase 69% the following week.

On Dec. 26, China removed all COVID-related restrictions on domestic air travel; and bookings surged again, reaching 50% of 2019’s level in the final week of the year.

As of Jan. 3, domestic flight bookings during the upcoming Chinese New Year period, Jan. 7 to Feb.15, were 71% behind pre-pandemic (2019) levels and 8% behind last year, with the most popular destinations being Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Kunming, Sanya, Shenzhen, Haikou, Guangzhou and Chongqing.

Before the announcement on Dec. 7, they were 91% behind 2019.

ForwardKeys notes that 67% of bookings made between Dec. 26 and Jan. 3 were for travel during the Chinese New Year period.

Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys, said that: “Although Chinese New Year is likely to see international travel rebound for the first time in three years, we will need to wait longer before we see a resurgence in Chinese tourists exploring the globe.”

He pointed out that: “The reasons are: First, current scheduled international flight capacity is only at 10% of 2019’s level; and owing to approval requirements for traffic rights and airport slots, it will be difficult for airlines to gear back up in less than a few months. Second, Ticket prices remain high, with average air fares in December 160% higher than in 2019. That said, there has been a downward trend since June, when quarantine was reduced from three weeks to seven days, and then to five days in November.”

Ponti continued: “Third, some destinations, including the US, the UK, India, Qatar, Canada, Australia and all 27 EU member countries now require a pre-flight COVID-19 test for Chinese visitors; and others, such as Japan, South Korea and Italy, will impose testing on arrival and quarantine for those who test positive. Finally, a bottleneck processing passport renewals and visa applications is likely; and some countries, such as South Korea and Japan, are restricting short-term visas for Chinese travellers until the end of this month. 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.”

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