After a 176-day hiatus, Wu Rongjun finally guided a group tour in the Yangtze River Delta region, consisting of 24 tourists from across China.
The trans-provincial group began their excursion on July 18, the first weekend since travel agencies were permitted to resume group tours comprising tourists from other provinces.
Group tours in China were suspended in late January due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Since mid-March, they have gradually resumed within a province or a city as the epidemic waned.
Since July 14, trans-provincial group tours were allowed to operate. Wu, 41, who is a Shanghai-based tour guide, expects an accelerating recovery of the country's tourism industry in the summer when there's a usual spike in traveling.
"Tour agencies and tourist sites are rolling out favorable pricing policies to attract more tourists while ensuring the safety of travelers and their employees," Wu said.
His agency, Spring Tour, has provided him with sufficient protective materials, including face masks, thermometers and disposable gloves.
Tourists are required to furnish their health QR codes with travel agencies when signing up for group tours, and their codes are rechecked before the trip commences. Those with abnormal body temperatures won't be allowed to join the trip, Wu said.
A bus with 59 seats was hired for the 24-member travel group so everyone could keep a safe social distance, he added. "We chose restaurants with self-service options."
For most tourists in the group, the five-day tour, which covered famed destinations such as Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Wuzhen, was their first trans-provincial trip this year.
"I really needed some fresh air after working from home and taking care of my two little kids for almost half a year," said He Hongfen, a group member from southwest China's Sichuan Province.
According to He, although many tourist attractions launched livestreaming programs during the epidemic, she still wanted to visit these spots and revel in the real aura physically.
She was satisfied since the schedule was flexible compared with tours before the epidemic.
Over 80 percent of the respondents surveyed across China showed an inclination to travel during the third quarter of 2020, according to Dai Bin, head of the China Tourism Academy (CTA). Compared with the same period last year, this figure has sprung to about 90 percent.
"The recovery of trans-provincial group tours will also serve the country's efforts in ensuring stability on the six fronts and security in the six areas, and boost economic development," said Dai.
The six fronts are employment, financial sector, foreign trade, foreign investment, domestic investment and expectations. The six areas refer to job security, basic living needs, operations of market entities, food and energy security, stable industrial and supply chains, and the normal functioning of primary-level governments.
Since July 15, over 20 low-risk provinces and municipalities for COVID-19, including Beijing, Shanghai and Hubei, have resumed trans-provincial group tours, while overseas group tours are still suspended, according to a circular issued by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Trip.com Group, China's largest online travel agency, said that more than 1 billion trips had been shelved in the first half of 2020 due to the epidemic. These trips are likely to be made in the latter half of the year, with tours in smaller groups and family trips being the preferred choices among travelers.
James Liang, chairman of Trip.com Group, said trans-provincial tours generate some 40 percent of the total revenue of travel agencies, and the resumption will help revive the epidemic-hit industry. The group has gradually reopened its over 7,000 brick-and-mortar chain stores.
Several market segments of the tourism industry have also been shored up.
Since July, Spring Airlines has launched 28 new domestic routes, thanks to the resumption of trans-provincial group travels. According to online travel agency Tongcheng-eLong, Hotel occupancy as of mid-July peaked at 65.1 percent, indicating a strong recovery from about 50 percent in May and June.
According to CTA, the total number of Chinese domestic tourists was 932 million in the first half of 2020, and the per-capita spending per trip was 679.08 yuan (about 97 U.S. dollars), a negative year-on-year growth of 69.7 percent and 25.3 percent, respectively.
"As epidemic prevention and control become a regular practice, the fundamentals of the tourism market will be effectively supported during peak seasons of summer vacation, Mid-autumn Festival and the National Day holidays," Dai Bin said. "And, a U-shaped recovery of China's tourist economy is highly probable." Enditem