CGTN America: Mei Zhang on Labor Day Travel in China

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WildChina founder, Mei Zhang, spoke with CGTN’s Sally Ayhan about the rise of tourists in China over the Labor Day holiday.

Labor Day Travel with Mei Zhang

Sally Ayhan: “It can only mean good things for China’s economy to see this influx of travel, but what is it doing to China as a whole and does it feel evenly dispersed to these areas that are seeing a burst of travelers all of a sudden?”

Mei Zhang: “Thank you for having me first of all. And secondly I want to say, it’s great to have travel coming back, but right now your question is right on – it is not evenly distributed and it’s coming back with a vengeance. At the moment it’s creating a little bit of a bottleneck. A couple of statistics that I have for you. Screenshots on WeChat, people are sharing that Shanghai Hongqiao train station tickets are all sold out. Kunming train station ticket to Vientiane in Laos, all sold out. Domestic flights have gone up 200% compared to last year. International flights operated by Chinese airlines have gone up 667%. These numbers are showing extraordinary growth, but remember, we’re comparing to last year, and last year’s numbers were very low. Right now, if you scroll anywhere on WeChat you are going to see these incredible crowds concentrated in scenic sites and that is creating a little bit, a little bit, of a challenge for the travel industry.”

Sally Ayhan: “And of course people are traveling abroad a lot more now too. Given the fact that catching a plane is far more expensive now, does that mean just a limited number of people are able to travel abroad from China? Where are people going and what are they doing?”

Mei Zhang: “You are right. Right now, the majority of travelers are still traveling within a 500-kilometer radius around where they live. So you see more crowds near Chongqing, Xi’an, Kunming, Beijing, Shanghai of course. International travel is constrained by a couple of things. One is the vacation is five days, as you mentioned earlier, it’s fairly short. Two, the visa processing still takes time. And lastly, the flight tickets are still very expensive right now due to the shortage of flights. So, yes, you will see more travel domestically. The outbound travel is slowly coming back.”

Sally Ayhan: “Have hotels and restaurants and others in the hospitality industry recovered enough, in terms of their staffing and resources, to be able to handle this surge in travel demand?”

Mei Zhang: “Domestically, I think Chinese just work so hard. I mean, I have so many friends in the hospitality industry and restaurant industry. It is stressful though, no doubt, it’s a very challenging time to scale up so quickly. But, I think we’d rather have this than not having clients visiting.”

Sally Ayhan: “And how long do you think it will be till we see a return to pre-pandemic levels for both people traveling domestically and also internationally? Do you think it’s just a case of getting those costs down or are there other impacts?”

Mei Zhang: “No, I think right now the pendulum is swinging. There’s so much pent-up desire to travel and that is newly released. So you are seeing an immediate surge that is actually higher than pre-pandemic levels. For example, in 2018 China has less than 150 million travelers and this year we are expecting 270 million. So, I think it’s surging too much and it’ll take about a year’s time for it to come back to a rational level. And it’s the same with international travel, that will come gradually as well – 2024, 2025-ish I hope.”