Skift Take

In spite of all the optimism and the latent travel demand, it’s still too early to project when China will be coming out of this Covid slump or if Hong Kong will ever get back to being a global aviation hub. The wait is only getting longer.

A long drawn zero-Covid policy continues to strangle aviation’s recovery in China, as Hong Kong falls off the map as a global aviation hub, amid flight bans and reduced capacity.

As a result, Middle Eastern carriers have been getting a bump up with a dramatic shift in Pacific connectivity across Asia.

Airlines that have been making a move into the area have been getting a lot of passengers, noted Jane Sun, CEO of Trip.com Group, on Wednesday while sharing that the online travel company has been working with Middle Eastern carriers, who have expanded their operations to serve customers in Asia.

However, even as Covid restrictions, lengthy quarantines and potential flight bans continue to threaten Hong Kong’s role as an aviation hub, with recovery seeming challenging, an optimistic Sun hoped for a quick rebound of the Asian aviation hubs.

The rising vaccination rates would in turn make people more confident to travel and a plethora of data from around the world on ensuring safety while traveling would help to boost travel confidence and navigate through a safe reopening of Asian aviation hubs, Sun said, speaking on the sidelines of the Qatar Economic Forum.

And while soaring jet fuel prices have led to a rising ticket price environment with airfares going up quite sharply, the demand in China continues to be quite resilient, she noted.

“The impact of rising fuel and ticket prices have been manageable so far, as a lot of people continue to travel for business. Also, with the summer holidays coming, travelers are now planning trips with their families,” Sun observed.

Hoping that the global Asian aviation industry responds quickly to the pent-up demand once travel gets back to normal, Sun said, “From our data, the interest for people to travel across the world is very strong and our team is getting ready to make sure that there is enough connectivity to serve that demand.

And when Chinese travelers do get back to travelling, they would be guided by the four Ss — Smaller groups, Safety, Short booking window and Sustainability, noted Sun. “We have been working to cater to these trends while preparing for the rebound.”

The recovery trend in the rest of the world has been very indicative that travel will rebound rapidly once the borders open, Sun said, even as virus disruptions are keeping millions of Chinese tourists at home. “We are very optimistic about the travel industry in the long run.”

At a time when international travel volume is seeing a better-than-expected rebound, China’s borders continue to remain largely closed for the past two years.

However, pent-up travel demand is very strong in China, according to Sun. Soon after the Shanghai lockdown was lifted, China has witnessed positive travel trends coming particularly from the southern part of the country and west China.

“The data we have seen coming from these areas is very close to the 2019 pre-Covid levels. We just hope that we can keep the infection levels down so that the travel industry here gets a much-needed boost,” she said.

June 29, 2022
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Tags: asia monthly, aviation, chinese outbound, chinese tourists, coronavirus recovery, hong kong, qatar, trip.com

Photo credit: Hong Kong falls off the map as a global aviation hub, amid flight bans and reduced capacity. AndyLeungHK / pixabay