By Brenda Goh
DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – Travel website operator Trip.com Group Ltd is working with airlines and airports to encourage recovery in China’s cross-border travel capacity and hopes levels will return to normal by the third quarter, its CEO Jane Sun said on Tuesday.
Travel in and out of China dropped dramatically from 2019 levels under China’s zero-COVID curbs, which all-but shut China’s borders for three years before they were reopened on Jan. 8 as part of Beijing’s dismantling of the policy.
“Domestic travel for Chinese people travelling within China has already recovered to 2019 levels very rapidly,” Sun told Reuters on the sidelines of the forum in the ski resort of Davos.
“However, for outbound and inbound travel, we still have seen a shortage in the capacity because airlines and airports (outside China) laid off a lot of workers during the pandemic so it’ll take some time for them to retrain these people.”
Airlines are running only 11% of pre-pandemic international capacity to and from China in January, according to Cirium, though the figure is expected to rise to around 25% by April based on current data. At least one study has also pointed to some hesitancy over outbound travel among Chinese residents.
The pandemic had reshaped demands from Chinese travellers, Sun said. Packages for families for example, were popular as parents were looking to take their kids abroad after the border closures, as were ones focused on wellness.
Trip.com was also advising global partners to put together packages that had clear safety measures and allowed shorter booking windows, as Chinese travellers now tended to wait longer before finalising their bookings, she added.
The company was seeing growing demand for travel in smaller groups, rather than the large tours many Chinese previously opted for, as well as demand from younger tourists for more sustainable accommodation.
Trip.com is one of the world’s largest online travel agencies with over 400 million users, most of them in China. It also owns travel booking platform Skyscanner.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)