ForwardKeys eyes China travel revival after Beijing lifts virus restrictions

By Luke Barras-hill |


Markets will have one eye on Hainan as an indicator of China’s travel recovery.

While ‘green shoots’ of recovery are being observed in China’s travel market there are no positive signs as yet that international tourism is reviving, according to travel analytics company ForwardKeys.

Beijing has moved to downgrade its emergency response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) in recent days, with arrivals to the city from ‘low-risk’ areas of China no longer obligated to quarantine for 14 days.

As of 29 April, China’s National Health Commission reported a mere four new cases of the virus, all imported cases in Shanghai, and no deaths.

Olivier Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys, said: “We have been expecting a jump in domestic flight bookings to occur as soon as domestic travel restrictions are eased and now that appears to be happening.

“It is currently still a little too early to see that trend in our flight data, but we expect to do so in the coming days, especially given the imminent ‘Labor Day’ holiday (1 May).

“While this looks like the emergence of the proverbial ‘green shoots’ of recovery, it is a domestic phenomenon and Chinese international air traffic is still falling.”


Oliver Ponti, VP Insights, ForwardKeys.


Data from ForwardKeys suggests Chinese domestic air travel leaped by 62.9% between 23-29 February week-on-week, buoyed by the glimmers of an economic revival twinned with a broadening of domestic air capacity.

Although it is worth noting that subsequent growth has been more muted; between the first week of March and the third week of April, growth was +19.5%, says ForwardKeys.

Travel to popular tourism and shopping hotspots such as Hainan and Shenzhen are likely to underpin the revival, with flight revivals picking up in the third week of February (although the base was higher for Shenzhen’s commercial centre than leisure destination Hainan).

On the other hand, China is still placing heavy restrictions on international flights.

ForwardKeys notes that Chinese airlines are cordoned into operating one flight per country, per week, with foreign airlines permitted only one route to China and one flight per week.

It is estimated there will be a mere 130 international flights to China per week and a maximum of 5,000 people per day arriving and departing the country, adds ForwardKeys.

“While it is encouraging to see air travel increasing within China, there is currently no indication that anyone outside China can yet look forward to the return of Chinese tourists,” added Ponti.

“So, if you are a luxury goods retailer, seeking to sell to the Chinese market, the reality is that the only places to do so will be in China.”


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