China’s tourism sector, which is healing from the coronavirus outbreak, will face a critical period as the upcoming May Day holidays will likely stimulate domestic travel, even as the government and tourism sites are displaying caution over whether large gatherings of people could cause new COVID-19 infections.
Wuhan, the city pummeled by the epidemic, is gradually reopening its sightseeing spots, a sign of economic resumption in the coronavirus-battered country.
On Wednesday, Yellow Crane Tower, a well-known scenic spot in Wuhan, opened to the public after months of closure. By about 11 am, some 200 people had visited. The tower is allowing a maximum of 5,400 visits per day, one-tenth of its normal daily capacity.
“Although reservations for the May Day holidays tickets are few now, just less than 100, we expect that daily visits will surge to 4,000-5,000 people on average during the May Day holidays,” Wang Hongnian, head of marketing at Yellow Crane Tower park told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Tourism service providers are also expecting a boost from the five-day holiday from May 1-5, the longest May vacation since 2008.
Xavier Desaulles, CEO of Asia-Pacific Markets at Club Med, an all-inclusive holiday resort brand, told the Global Times that rooms at its resort in Yanqing county in northwestern Beijing, a 90-mimute drive from the downtown, are almost fully booked for the May Day holidays. The local government has capped the maximum occupancy rate at 90 percent of capacity for epidemic prevention.
“As the epidemic situation turned in China, people are increasingly willing to travel, but of course most of them will choose self-drive tours in the suburbs instead of long-distance travel,” he said.
Despite these positive signs, it is unlikely that the May Day holidays will become a turning point for China’s tourism industry, experts said, as the sector’s recovery is subdued and slow with the government going to all lengths to prevent a second wave of coronavirus infections.
For the upcoming May Day holidays, some usually popular sites like Beijing’s Forbidden City and Shanghai’s Disneyland will remain shut. The government has not yet lifted the ban on trans-provincial tours for travel agents, and other sites such as parks are exercising extreme cautions.
Yellow Crane Tower, for example, has set up three “separation spots” to separate people with abnormal body temperatures from other tourists. Wuhan Botanical Garden has put in place measures such as putting up virus-prevention posters and temperature screening, the garden’s publicity director Chen Changli told the Global Times.
Some tourism spots are even using advanced “black technology” to strengthen coronavirus risk management. For example, security personnel in Xixi Wetland Park Hongyuan, a 5A-level tourist spot in Hangzhou, East China’s Zhejiang Province, are wearing special glasses equipped with infrared temperature measurement modules to check tourists’ temperatures while patrolling the park.
The glasses automatically scan people’s temperatures in the wearer’s field of view and display them in the form of thermal imaging.
During the previous Qingming Festival holidays, photos of Anhui Province’s Huangshan Mountain packed with tourists went viral on social media, triggering heavy criticism from Chinese netizens. Now, with the government and industries promoting management of tourist flow, such scenes are unlikely to be repeated, said Wang Jianmin, a research fellow at the Tourism Research Center of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
“China won’t prioritize the recovery of certain industries over coronavirus prevention,” he told the Global Times, predicting that there will not be a large increase in tourist numbers during the May Day holidays compared with Qingming holidays.
Wang Defu, a professor specializing in tourism at Beijing International Studies University, also said that China’s tourism sector will take “small and piecemeal” steps to recover, and it will likely take two to three years for the sector to fully recover.