China is bracing for a record-high travel rush over the Labour Day holiday, with popular sightseeing spots selling out of tickets and some cities warning would-be visitors away as domestic tourism rebounds after Beijing ended Covid curbs.
Authorities are expecting 19 million trips to be made across China's vast railway network on Saturday, the first day of the five-day holiday, which would be the highest number of rail trips made in a single day in the country's history.
It compares to 4.4 million rail trips on May 1 last year, when China locked down several cities including Shanghai to battle the spread of the virus, and the last peak of 18.8 million on the same day in 2021.
Over the 40-day Lunar New Year travel period in January-February this year, 348 million trips were made in total, or about 8.7 million trips a day on average, according to the National Railway Administration.
The May holiday is far shorter than the Lunar New Year and October Golden Week holidays but traditionally still is one of China's busiest travel seasons as spring moves into summer. This year, the holiday is crucial for the tourism industry as well as the wider Chinese economy as the country strives to recover from years of virus disruptions.
"It took me a lot of effort to get a ticket, it's hard this time," said Di Jingshu, 21, as she waited for a train at Shanghai's packed Hongqiao railway station on Thursday. China's aviation authority said it expects air passenger trips to reach a total of 9 million over the five days.
Booking sites for popular scenic spots, such as Beijing's Old Summer Palace and the Badaling section of the Great Wall showed they were sold out of tickets for the first few days of the Labour Day holiday, and Trip.com Group said that reservations across its online travel platform had surpassed 2019 levels.
One small city, Zibo in China's coastal Shandong province, which has gone viral on Chinese social media in recent weeks for its local barbecue cuisine, imposed an upper limit on Sunday on hotel room rates and three days later issued a public letter warning would-be visitors its downtown hotels were fully booked.
"Passenger traffic has exceeded our accommodation capacity," it said, pleading for understanding should service levels fall short given the anticipated swelling of visitor numbers.
Outbound travel for the holiday however continues to remain constrained, in part due to a shortage of international flights, although bright spots were emerging in cities such as Macau and Jakarta, according to a report from travel data firm ForwardKey's.
"Bookings for outbound travel are around 50% behind the pre-pandemic levels," it said. "Chinese travellers have started to travel abroad but are still preferring destinations within the Asia Pacific region."