Flight bookings surge in China following relaxation of Covid restrictions

China’s relaxation of Covid-19 travel restrictions has triggered a surge in domestic and international flight bookings, according to travel booking data analyst ForwardKeys.

Domestic flight bookings took off as soon as China’s authorities announced removal of the requirement for a negative PCR test before an internal flight on December 7, ForwardKeys reports.

Bookings increased by 56% week on week in the first few days, and after China removed all Covid-related restrictions on domestic travel on December 26, bookings reached 50% of the 2019 level in the final week of the year.

ForwardKeys reports domestic bookings for the Chinese New Year period from January 7 to February 15 remained 71% behind 2019 levels in early January.

However, domestic airline capacity is due to be restored to 88% of the pre-pandemic level by the end of this month.

Beijing’s cap on international flights was also removed from the start of this week (January 8), a measure likewise announced on December 26, and Chinese citizens can once again renew or apply for passports.

Outbound flight bookings almost tripled year on year between the December 26 announcement and January 3, while remaining 85% down on the 2019 level.

ForwardKeys notes the most-popular destinations in this early surge have been Macao, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Frankfurt.

However, international travel to and from China is expected to return relatively slowly to begin with, given the imposition of Covid-19 testing requirements by many countries while the country remains in the grip of the pandemic.

Olivier Ponti, ForwardKeys vice-president for insights, said: “Although Chinese New Year is likely to see international travel rebound, we will need to wait longer before we see a resurgence in Chinese tourists.”

He explained: “Scheduled international flight capacity is only at 10% of 2019’s level and 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.

“Third, destinations including the US, the UK, India, Qatar, Canada, Australia and all EU member countries now require a pre-flight Covid-19 test for Chinese visitors, and others will impose testing on arrival and quarantine for those who test positive.

“Finally, a bottleneck processing passport renewals and visa applications is likely.”

Ponti said: “We expect the Chinese outbound market will pick up strongly in Q2 2023, when airlines schedule capacity for the spring and summer.”

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