China’s airlines soar high with robust demand among Chinese tourists

 Wednesday, March 22, 2023 


Sabre, a global travel technology company based in Texas, published an analysis of travel shopping and booking data in China last week, after the relaxation of border controls in December last year. Sabre discovered that whenever there was an announcement regarding travel restrictions being relaxed, there was a commensurate increase in travel questions and requests, particularly for outbound tourists.

Despite airfares peaking at double of what they were pre-pandemic, the data found that there was robust demand among Chinese tourists, with demand outstripping supply. International airline capacity on routes to and from China, including Hong Kong and Macau, had returned to roughly 27% as of February 6th, compared to the first quarter of 2019.

With capacity projected to be limited until April, Chinese airlines are moving up to seize the chance. Chinese carriers now supply more than 65% of total international route capacity to and from China, up from 60% in 2019.

Another evidence of South East Asian’s poor shape of aviation is that airlines from that region hold just 12% of international capacity for China, down from 16% pre-pandemic. Sabre also notes that major (non-Chinese) airlines have yet to significantly increase capacity for China.

Simple Flying website quoted Sabre senior vice president of Airline Global Sales, Darren Rickey, as saying, “The speed with which Chinese tourism started to rebound as soon as the announcements were made that restrictions were to be lifted demonstrates how high travel demand is for both inbound and outbound trips.”

The most major breakthrough occurred on January 20th, when China stated that the group travel prohibition will be lifted on February 6th. Sabre had an instant rise in reservations, notably between January 30th and February 5th, with bookings jumping by 60% over the preceding two weeks’ average.

Outbound travel has recovered quicker than inbound travel to China, possibly due to a shortage of non-Chinese capacity. According to Sabre statistics, outbound bookings accounted for 43.5% of total 2023 travel through February 9th, compared to 37% for the same period in 2019.

Japan, Thailand, and South Korea are the most popular destinations for Chinese tourists this year. Bookings for the United Kingdom, Thailand, and the Philippines have recovered the fastest, while Indonesia, a popular outbound destination in 2019, has fallen to tenth place, losing its position to the Philippines. Australia has also dropped to ninth place, presumably due to COVID testing requirements for Chinese visitors.

In contrast, the majority of inbound visitors come from Taiwan, the United States, Thailand, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and Canada. According to the survey, the nations with the highest number of overseas nationals in 2021 were Thailand, Canada, and the United Kingdom, implying that much incoming travel was for long-awaited family reunions.

Booking windows, according to Sabre, may also be an important confidence factor, as passengers are “generally happier to book further out if they feel certain about their plans.” As of February 5th, 33% of inbound bookings and 43% of outgoing bookings had been made more than two months in advance. In comparison, just 21% of outbound and 14% of inbound bookings were made within two weeks of travel in 2018, compared to 37% and 30% in 2019.

The fact that Thailand and the Philippines are on the list of countries that Chinese tourists wish to visit is a good indicator for airline recovery in South East Asia. Ideally, carriers like Thai Airways, AirAsia, Cebu Pacific, and Philippine Airlines would be able to increase capacity and expand their footprint to and from China, Simple Flying website stated.

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