China hotels see uptick in demand over May Day holiday

Some hoteliers in China are bracing for a spike in domestic activity during China’s week-long May Day holiday, which takes place from May 1-5, with Ctrip predicting that the period is expected to see 90 million domestic trips.

The projection may be a steep decline from the number of domestic trips taken during the annual holiday in 2019 (195 million), but signals the start of recovery for China’s tourism sector ravaged by the coronavirus.

China hotels brace for May Day uptick, with Cordis Dongqian Lake Ningbo (pictured) to see high occupancy over the week-long holidays

The expected rebound comes despite limitations imposed – students are requested to stay within their own city for 14 days, while attractions have to ensure daily visitation is below 30 per cent of maximum capacity.

William Hall, an independent hotelier and former general manager of Crowne Plaza Chengdu City Center, believes there are green shoots as the recent Qing Ming holiday showed a surge in demand in some tourist areas.

Some 43 million domestic trips were recorded during the recent Qing Ming Festival in China, according to data from the China Tourism Academy.

Hall predicted that domestic tourism would be “good” during the May Day holiday, while Chinese travellers will still hold a “wait and see” mindset towards overseas travel. “Everyone is eager to travel, but in a safe and secure manner,” he said.

Sor Hoon Lim, regional vice president for sales and marketing, Asia Pacific, Langham Hospitality Group, shared that bookings for the May holidays in China are promising and its resorts are doing well.

“Our hotels in Haikou and the city are expected to be busy during this holiday period. Our resort Cordis Dongqian Lake Ningbo, in particular, will be running high occupancy over the May Day holidays. In China, more people are starting to travel domestically, within the surrounds of the province or inter-city self-drives in China,” she said.

“People are seeking holidays where they can be close to nature, or resorts where they have more space, are popular. Business in Shanghai is gradually improving and F&B business in the city is definitely picking up, as more people are dining out (while still practicing social distancing).”

In south-west China, hotel business is picking up too. Niccolo Chengdu general manager Michael Ganster said that he is starting to see green shoots appear in the popular tourist destination.

“We experienced 100 per cent occupancy for the first three days of the May Day holiday period in 2019, but forecast an occupancy of about 65 per cent (this year),” he said.

“Leisure travellers are mainly from surrounding cities. Long-distance travel across provinces is still not high due to government restrictions, with the exception of the more popular leisure destinations such as Sanya and Yunnan.”

Niccolo Chongqing’s general manager, Giorgio Olivotti, shared that the hotel enjoyed 80 per cent occupancy for the May Day holiday last year. This year, it forecasted an occupancy of 55 per cent.

He said that his current guests mostly hail from the surrounding cities such as Sichuan as “people like travelling a distance”, adding that at present, guests favour travel by car over train or air.

“For cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong, as well as Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, which are also our key sources with limited volume now, we expect recovery may be in 4Q2020, but we will need to monitor the progress of Covid-19.

“People appear to prefer to stay in hotels in the suburbs and outskirts, rather than hotels located in the city centre. They are also beginning to focus on health and well-being, like the quality of air, food, and water.”

However, not all stakeholders will get to cash in on the upcoming Golden Holiday. In Beijing, Taishan Hotel Beijing has temporarily shuttered since last week due to a lack of revenue and to ensure safety.

However, its general manger Chris Duncan told TTG Asia that the company’s other properties are open and those in Shandong Province are doing quite well.

He called Ctrip’s prediction of 90 million domestic trips for this year’s May break “very optimistic”, based on comments he received from other hotels, and the current travel restrictions for Beijing.

“It could be the case for rural holiday destinations, but my personal feeling is that the general population is still very cautious to travel outside their hometowns over the May holiday period,” he said.

He added that Beijing is currently not seeing any green shoots, with regulations changing regularly and the tight restrictions on both FITs and corporate travellers to the city.

“Prior to (Taishan Hotel Beijing’s) closure last week, we saw no forward bookings, but this could be due to the tight restrictions in Beijing, coupled with the requirement that all arrivals into Beijing, except from the Tianjin and Hubei provinces, need to have a hospital clearance certificate.”

However, Duncan is hopeful that when travel restrictions are lifted, there will be an influx of corporate travellers, although he noted that there will be fewer attendees for events. “Travellers will be very cautious, but I believe people will return through necessity, and will travel in coming months to build relationships again and improve their bottom lines.”

On the other hand, it may take a longer time for travel agents to rebuild their business. According to Century Holiday Travel Group general manager, Creamy Chen, the company is still in “hibernation mode”, with no concrete plans for resumption of operations.

“Currently, I understand only Beijing announced that agents may organise city tours. Moreover, agents (are not benefitting from) the surge in domestic travel as travellers only opt for self-drive holidays around the areas they reside,” she said.

BCD Travel’s managing director for Greater China, Jonathan Kao, said that changing traveller preferences may mean lesser earning opportunities for tourism providers.

He explained: “For the May holidays, the popular belief is that travel will come back to life due to pent-up demand, with everyone staying home for so long. But it is also expected to be the worst holidays in the past five to six years, based on price.

“Travellers are looking more for wilderness and places they can drive to that are not too crowded; and maybe opting for individual villas or accommodation. They are also seeking out mainly outdoor activities, so it is a bit different from their requirements in the past.”

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