After travel disruptions caused by Covid-19, China’s three-day tomb-sweeping holiday has seen a return of consumer spending
By Patrick Body
After the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted domestic travel around Chinese national holidays throughout 2020, this year’s three-day traditional tomb-sweeping holiday has seen a return of consumer spending, with some metrics almost back to pre-pandemic levels. Early April’s Qingming Festival saw 102 million domestic trips, up 145% on the previous year and equivalent to 95% of the trips made over the same holiday in 2019.
While China’s national holidays are consistently some of the largest human migrations on the planet, 2020 was an obvious exception. With the Covid-19 pandemic at its height, the Chinese government put in place strict rules which worked well to contain the virus but decimated the tourism industry.
Although the number of trips are back to near 2019 levels, spending is still feeling something of a hangover from the 2020 hiatus. Travel businesses pulled in 27.7 billion yuan ($4.14 billion) during the three-day period, 56.7% of the 2019 level, but 228.9% higher than last year. This difference in profits is due to the large majority of trips being short-distance, the travel industry lowering prices and the reduction or even elimination of entrance fees at many tourist sites.
The Qingming Festival, traditionally a chance for people to visit their rural hometowns, has seen an increase in people choosing to stay closer to home and making the most of the attractions around them. Consumers, however eager to get back to pre-pandemic habits, are still reluctant to spend big with private sector spending still lagging behind the economy even as the industrial, export and real-estate sectors rebound.
With many citizens choosing not to travel over the Lunar New Year in February due to outbreaks in Beijing and Hebei province, this holiday was the first real test of consumer sentiment after all the disruptions of the previous year. Next comes the longer Labor Day holiday in early May. Levels of tourism and consumption during this five-day period will be the next indicator of the post-pandemic recovery.