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China domestic air travel continues recovery

China domestic air travel continues recovery

ForwardKeys has revealed that domestic air travel in China, which has been recovering slowly in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, has now reached more than 50 per cent of what it was at the equivalent moment in 2019.

The figures are based on issued air tickets.

In addition, analysis of flight ticketing data reveals a significant uptick in last minute domestic flight bookings in China between May 11th-21st.

During that period, the lead time between ticketing and travel shortened dramatically; 72 per cent of flight tickets were issued within four days of the travel date, compared with 51 per cent at the equivalent point in 2019.

ForwardKeys believes that this phenomenon is significantly influenced by students returning to university, as the timing coincides with universities reopening – a milestone that is expected to stimulate Chinese consumers to travel more.


Looking back to the start of 2020, air travel surged in the first three weeks of January, thanks to Chinese New Year.

However, the Covid-19 outbreak spoiled the party and by mid-February the aviation market in China had all but collapsed.

In the last week of that month, the recovery began; and passenger traffic jumped 62.9 per cent (all be it form a very low base), coinciding with a weak restart of the economy and an increase in seat capacity.

Throughout March and April air travel continued to pick up slowly until it received a fillip from the Labour Day holiday at the start of May.

While all this sounds encouraging, it is likely that a stronger recovery is underway in the hospitality sector, with many people choosing to drive or take the high-speed train rather than fly.

Olivier Ponti, vice president, insights, ForwardKeys, said: “At the end of April, we were expecting to see an increase in domestic flight bookings as soon as domestic travel restrictions were eased and that indeed happened.

“Nevertheless, some restrictions are still in place; so, there is potential for further recovery when they are also removed.

“With regards to international travel, current strict restriction which limits 134 flights a week is due to be eased in the coming months, according to China’s aviation authority’s statement on May 27th.

“However, at this stage, the increased capacity is mainly intended to accommodate the demand of overseas Chinese to return home. I regret that there is no sign yet of a recovery in Chinese outbound tourism.”

He concluded: “I expect 2020 to be the year of the staycation for two principal reasons.

“First, in China (and in other countries too), the rules applying to international travel are continuously changing, which inhibits consumers from planning and booking a vacation abroad.

“Second, people are generally reluctant to give up on a holiday; so, if a domestic break is all they can get, many will settle for that.”