Many people prefer relaxed, 'freestyle' excursions with families, expert says
Liu Jiangbo plans to rent a car and drive from Beijing to Shandong province during the upcoming eight-day holiday to avoid taking public transport.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 33-year-old capital resident has opted to avoid overseas or long-distance trips and is prioritizing places in his vicinity.
In addition, Shandong is a low-risk province, which eases one of Liu's concerns.
After experiencing the pandemic, many people like Liu have chosen to drive themselves as the eight-day holiday approaches.
The National Day holiday, which coincides with the Mid-Autumn Festival this year, will start on Thursday, with the golden week holiday extended to eight days. It will be the last long holiday in China this year, and many people are seizing the opportunity to take a trip.
Some 408 million road trips are expected to be made during the holiday, according to the Ministry of Transport. All expressways will be toll-free for passenger cars with seven seats or fewer from Friday to Oct 8.
Some 108 million railway trips are expected to be made from Monday to Oct 8, according to national railway operator China Railway Corp.
The aviation sector is also gearing up for a surge in domestic trips, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China. Beijing's two airports－Capital and Daxing－expect to see nearly 3 million passenger departures and arrivals.
Travel agencies including Ctrip, Lvmama, Tuniu and LY.com have published reports saying that domestic travel will surge.
Although the number of travelers will be the highest since the COVID-19 pandemic began, it is expected to be lower than last October's travel rush, when 138 million railway trips were made and Beijing's two airports handled about 3.8 million passengers.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reminded people to avoid unnecessary cross-border journeys during the holiday because the globe is still managing the pandemic.
Some employers are requiring nucleic acid tests if employees leave the city. Schools in many places are also requiring students to stay put during the holiday.
Short-distance trips close to cities are expected to become the most popular form of leisure travel and increase in frequency, said Zhang Guangrui, honorary director of Tourism Research Centre, China Academy of Social Sciences, adding that the number of international trips will decline dramatically.
He also noted that group travel, especially long-distance interprovincial groups consisting of a great number of tourists, won't see a surge.
"Travelers prefer 'freestyle travel', especially traveling with family and friends for relaxation," Zhang said, adding that travelers care less about the fame of the destination and instead focus on getting away from their daily lives.
"Although China has gradually brought the pandemic under control and resumed production, it is far from conquering the disease," he said. "The world is still facing a complicated situation, posing severe challenges to tourism activities.
"In most countries and regions, cross-country travel has been suspended. However, it is the best time of the year, and it is China's last long vacation in 2020. People have a strong desire to take a break after being restrained for a long time. The desire is strong, but the decision is hard. Safety is an important concern. People will travel more rationally."
Several travel agencies also observed that both driving oneself or participating in small, tailored travel programs (usually including a rental vehicle and a driver) have become new holiday travel trends.
Ctrip said road trips will be more popular during the holiday, with northwestern China topping online inquiries. Travelers prefer to use a vehicle with family or friends than share with strangers, a report released by the online travel agency said.
To cater to their needs, the company offers 200,000 vehicles for rent in 700 cities, the report said.
Yu Dan, who is in charge of Ctrip's tailored group travel program, said people's safety awareness has increased since the pandemic.
The small, tailored travel plan, usually including a vehicle, driver and sometimes a tour guide, satisfies people's concerns over public health to reduce unnecessary contact, especially with strangers. It also can better carry out measures such as eating meals separately and testing body temperatures, Yu said.
According to a report from China Tourism Academy, total revenue from recreational vehicle rentals increased 257 percent from May to July over the same period last year.
After experiencing the pandemic, Liu, from Beijing, started to ponder the meaning of his life.
"Instead of visiting popular scenic attractions that are far away, especially abroad, as I usually did during long holidays in the past, I'm taking a look at places in my vicinity. I found many domestic destinations are surprisingly good, with natural scenery and historic backgrounds," Liu said.
"More importantly, traveling with my loved ones in a safe way is the top priority," he said.