ForwardKeys: China reopening sparks flight surge for Lunar New Year

By Charlotte Turner |

China’s decision to abandon its zero-Covid policy has triggered a wave of flight bookings, according to analysts at ForwardKeys, who reveal that domestic flight bookings in particular spiked 56% immediately following the decision by China to ditch PCR tests for air travel between provinces.


On 7 December, Chinese authorities announced that a negative PCR test would no longer be required for air travel between provinces, confirmed Forwardkeys.


“Domestic flight bookings immediately surged 56% on the previous week and continued to increase 69% the following week,” said the company.


“On 26 December, 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 3 January, domestic flight bookings during the upcoming Chinese New Year period 7 January – 15 February, were 71% behind pre-pandemic (2019) levels and 8% behind last year.


The most popular destinations appeared to be Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Kunming, Sanya, Shenzhen, Haikou, Guangzhou and Chongqing. However, before the announcement on 7 December, they were 91% behind 2019, insisted Forwardkeys.

The end of a cap on the number of international flights to China and quarantine measures, (announced on 26 December and implemented on 8 January) are also making an impact.


In addition, Chinese citizens can now renew expired passports and apply for new ones.


Outbound flight bookings between 26 December and 3 January jumped 192% compared to same period last year, but they are still 85% behind pre-pandemic levels, said Forwardkeys.


Currently, the most popular return trips are to Macau, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Frankfurt.

Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys, commented: “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.


“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.”

“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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