Despite the reopening, flight bookings in China have plummeted, data shows


Outbound flight bookings are at just 15 percent of pre-pandemic levels despite the reopening, the travel agency said.

China’s outbound flight bookings were just 15 percent of pre-pandemic levels in the week after the country announced it would reopen its borders, despite a 192 percent increase from the same period last year, according to travel data firm ForwardKeys.

Low airline capacity, high airfares, new pre-flight COVID-19 testing requirements by many countries and a backlog in passport and visa applications pose challenges as the industry looks to recovery, ForwardKeys Vice President Insights Olivier Ponti said in a statement Thursday.

“While Chinese New Year is likely to see international travel increase for the first time in three years, we will have to wait longer before seeing a resurgence of Chinese tourists exploring the world,” he added.

Some online travel agencies had touted a multi-fold increase in searches and bookings since the December 26 border announcement, but did not provide data comparing interest levels to 2019.

ForwardKeys data shows average outbound rates from China were 160 percent higher than in December 2019, though that represented a downward trend since June, when flight capacity was even lower and quarantine was required.

Airlines are operating at just 11 percent of pre-pandemic international capacity to and from China in January, according to Cirium, though the figure is expected to rise to about 25 percent by April based on current data.

An official from China’s aviation regulator predicted the international market could recover to about 80 percent of 2019 capacity levels by the end of the year, China Daily reported on Thursday.

Ponti said his company expected China’s outbound market to pick up strongly in the second quarter as airlines plan capacity for the spring and summer, including the May holiday, the Dragon Boat Festival in June and the summer holiday.

The most popular destinations booked from China between December 26 and January 3 were Macau, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Frankfurt, with 67 percent of bookings made for the holiday season of the Lunar New Year between Jan. 7 and Feb. 15, ForwardKeys said.

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