ForwardKeys and Dragon Trail International recently teamed up for a joint webinar sharing the latest flight data and Chinese consumer sentiment. Here are some of the highlights and the full presentation is available at the very end.

Labour Day Holiday in China – Full Steam Ahead

According to Nan Dai, China Market Expert at ForwardKeys “there is considerable domestic travel demand for the Labour Day holiday, with bookings ahead by 32%.”

Analysing from major Chinese destinations during the Labour Day holiday, Chengdu has continually grown in popularity, as forward bookings are double that of the same period in 2019. Sanya ranks fourth, with bookings up by 76%.

Forward bookings to Harbin are much advanced as well. This Northern destination suffered greatly during the Chinese New Year due to the rebound in cases, so the pent-up demand is set to be released greatly during the Labour Day holiday.

“Surprisingly, we see that Zunyi jumps into the top 15 destinations by booking volumes, with significant growth in advanced bookings”, says Dai.

Zunyi is a national patriotic site in the landlocked Guizhou province. Its popularity could be boosted by the strong promotion of “Rural tourism” and “Red Tourism” as the Chinese Communist Party celebrates its 100 birthday this year.

Currently, Macao is the only outbound destination seeing the rebound in bookings from mainland China travellers. We can see that forward bookings concentrate on the upcoming holidays, especially during the Labour Day holiday and the Dragon Boat Festival.

Flight tickets issued for the Labour Day holiday are just 46.9% below levels in the same period in 2019, while outbound travel from China, in general, is 95.6% behind. Travellers are already starting booking for travel during the Dragon Boat Festival in June, bookings are 42.7% behind the pre-crisis level.

Chinese choose future destinations by the friendliness

According to the Consumer Sentiment Survey by Dragon Trail International, international destinations keen on attracting Chinese travellers should concern themselves not only with safety protocols but also with the level of friendliness extended to Chinese travellers.

“Given the speed of recovery in China, travellers will start paying more attention to friendliness to Chinese travellers. 62% of survey respondents said that friendliness to Chinese travellers would make them willing to travel overseas, making this a more influential factor than a lifting of quarantine rules (56%) or being fully vaccinated (43%),” says Mengfan Wang, Head Researcher at Dragon Trail International.

The survey asked respondents to rank geographical areas by travel preference, as well as to assess the safety of 12 countries around the world. As in past surveys, Europe still ranks second as the global region where the Chinese want to travel, behind Asia. For destination safety, Japan and Singapore ranked the highest.

“It is expected that travel to Asia will bounce back quicker than the long haul because many Asian destinations handled the crisis better than other countries outside the region. People feel safer going to places where there are similar levels of control over the crisis,” Dai.

More than 80 per cent of respondents in the survey, conducted from February 22 to March 3 by Dragon Trail International, rated the U.S. as unsafe. Next-in-line, Canada, ranked unsafe by 54 per cent, Australia 48 per cent and the UK, 47 per cent of respondents.

New Habits to consider

The pandemic has shifted the way people travel in more than one way. Lead-times are shrinking – domestic Chinese travellers are now booking and flying in less than 4 days. In the latest seven months, 86% of Chinese flight tickets were issued one fortnight before, while 58% of flight tickets were made within just 4 days before the flight.

Premium cabin class has been swapped for the more affordable economy class. “We can see that 90% of Chinese travellers took economy class, while only 10% travelled on premium classes. Before the COVID-19, 19% of travellers chose to fly premium”, says Nan Dai.

And tempting flight deals and holiday packages are inspiring people to travel in pairs. For example, Air Macau has created a special offer, a “buy one get one free plane ticket” deal for mainland China travellers valid until the 28th of June this year.

All these points spell out clearly that if your business or destination expected to see return Chinese travellers as a guaranteed source market post-pandemic, you may need to double-check that with your sales and marketing teams first! There is nothing quite like a crisis to shake things up and reinvent a thing or two.