Passengers line up to borad a train at Fuyang West Railway Station in east China's Anhui Province, Jan. 27, 2023. Railway stations, highways and airports across China are bracing for a fresh travel peak as a growing number of travelers hit the road and return to work after a week-long Spring Festival holiday which ends on Friday. (Photo by Lu Qijian/Xinhua)
BEIJING, Jan. 31 (Xinhua) -- With most of the COVID-19 restrictions lifted in China and the infection peak now passed, the hustle and bustle of Spring Festival has returned and the world's second-largest economy is poised for economic recovery.
Hundreds of millions of Chinese people joined the Spring Festival travel rush around the nation's most important traditional holiday, reuniting with relatives in their hometowns or taking long-awaited vacations.
The increase in travel this year has brought opportunities for huge holiday and tourism spending, giving a strong boost to the country's economic recovery.
During the Spring Festival holiday alone, which ran from Jan. 21 to 27, 50.17 million people traveled by train, up 57 percent year on year, and recovering to 83.1 percent of the level in 2019, according to the National Railway Administration.
Meanwhile, 9 million passengers traveled by air, surging 79.8 percent year on year, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China.
In parts of the country, the traffic has even exceeded pre-pandemic levels. The Spring Festival holiday this year is the first week-long holiday after the country optimized its anti-virus response, and the enthusiasm for travel was strong.
In east China's Jiangsu Province, the flow of highway traffic amounted to 3.41 million vehicles on Friday, a new daily record for the Spring Festival holidays.
In southwest China's Sichuan Province, highway traffic and travel by train and air have all returned to or exceeded pre-pandemic levels. The highways saw a daily average of 3.84 million vehicles during the seven-day period, up 30 percent from the level in 2019.
China Railway Chengdu Bureau Group Co., Ltd., which operates railways in Sichuan and several neighboring regions, transported 6.45 million passengers, an increase of over 197,000 from the same period of 2019. Airports in Chengdu, the provincial capital, handled 1.17 million passengers, returning to the level in 2019.
A huge number of people took long-awaited vacations during the holiday, leading to a strong recovery and boosting further confidence in the tourism sector.
Some 308 million domestic tourism trips were made in the period, up 23.1 percent from the same period last year and recovering to 88.6 percent of the figure for the same holiday in 2019, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Consumption is returning to the normal growth track faster than expected, said Wang Yun, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Macroeconomic Research
During the holiday, authorities in Jiangsu offered tourism consumption coupons, and free entrance and public transport, to aid the recovery. The province received over 41.3 million domestic tourists, 21 percent higher than the level in 2019, and tourism revenue was 0.6 percent higher than the level in 2019.
"During the holiday, the average occupancy rate of our guesthouses was close to 90 percent," said Liu Guang, general manager of a countryside tourism resort in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province.
"Tourism is recovering, the holiday hustle and bustle is back and our business is getting better," said Xu Bao, who was busy serving customers in a coffee shop at a scenic site in downtown Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province.
During the holiday, tourists swarmed into Weizhou Island, the youngest volcanic island in China and a popular tourist destination, located in the coastal city of Beihai, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.
Yang Xiaojun flew to Beihai with family and friends for a six-day vacation. "Due to the epidemic, we usually took short-distance self-driving tours in our home province of Hunan during the Spring Festival holidays in the past couple of years," said Yang. "We decided to travel a little farther this year."
Dai Bin, president of the China Tourism Academy, said that travel demand has bounced back, with family visits and holiday travel during the Spring Festival holiday of 2023, kicking off a rosy start and sustained recovery of the tourism sector.
Authorities and enterprises in the booming Jiangsu Province have also joined the travel rush, heading to inland provinces for recruitment and sending buses to ferry workers back.
Authorities in the city of Changzhou have traveled to Sichuan and Shaanxi to recruit workers for local enterprises. The manufacturing hub of Kunshan sent charter buses to ferry migrant workers back, to speed up industrial production after the holiday. The city of Wuxi even arranged a charter plane to transport 120 migrants back from Yunnan Province on Friday.
"The chartered flight has helped alleviate our labor shortage," said Zhu Rende, general manager of Wuxi Jingyuntong Technology Co., Ltd. "Orders for our photovoltaic products have grown steadily. We maintained production during the holiday, and workers took turns returning to their hometowns."
A survey of nearly 7,000 major enterprises showed a strong desire to increase payrolls this year amid the economic recovery, said Zhang Hongwei, deputy director of the Jiangsu provincial department of human resources and social security.
Han Jian, a professor at Nanjing University's business school, said the adjustment of China's epidemic control policy has created greater space for local economies, and many regions are quickly rolling out measures to stabilize growth.
"From the consumption boom around the Spring Festival this year, we can see that the potential of China's consumer market is still huge, and the economy is getting off to a good start," said Han.
Liu Jing, chief economist for Greater China at HSBC, said the economic rebound is a key theme for China in 2023, and China's economy will rebound strongly from the second quarter, with growth of 5 percent forecast this year.
Zhu Haibin, chief China economist at J.P. Morgan, is also optimistic. "We see both production and consumption activities on track to recover further. It is likely that the economic recovery could be front-loaded compared to our baseline forecast," wrote Zhu.