From the Great Wall to Shanghai’s waterfront Bund, China’s most famous destinations are being mobbed during the Labor Day holiday by throngs of domestic tourists who are traveling again in huge numbers after the country ended three years of strict pandemic controls.
More than 240 million holidaymakers are expected to travel within or outside mainland China during the five-day break that began on Saturday, state media CCTV reported Monday, an increase of more than 20% from pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
Beijing received nearly 2 million tourists on the first day of the holiday, double the number from last year, according to the Beijing Cultural and Tourism Department.
In Shanghai, over 7 million tourists arrived in the city for the weekend, according to Shanghai Travel Data. Tickets to Shanghai Disneyland have been sold out until May 3, its website showed.
Police in the city of Xi’an, home to the terracotta warriors, have warned tourists to stay away from a busy shopping street sandwiched between two popular heritage sites.
On Saturday, China Railway logged a record 19.7 million railway trips with a predicted figure on Sunday of 18 million trips.
The sheer size of the crowds traveling across the nation has baffled some citizens.
“Why are there so many people? I can’t even get McDonald’s,” one internet user wrote on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.
Also known as the May Day holiday, the Labor Day break is one of three major annual holidays in China. The boom in tourism is likely to boost the Chinese economy, which is struggling to recover after the country abruptly ended its self-imposed Covid isolation late last year.
Growth got off to a solid start in 2023, with the economy expanding by 4.5% in the first quarter, as consumers went on a spending spree that is continuing with the current holiday.
Chinese travel booking website Trip.com reported domestic bookings alone had risen by 700% compared to last year, when many restaurants and retailers were shut and travel was complicated due to the pandemic.
Accommodation was selling out this year weeks ahead of the holiday, pushing up prices, according to state media.
And there have been complaints of scalping.
Due to the high demand, according to state media, many Chinese tourists who had booked their accommodations early at low prices were later told to cancel their reservations, forcing them to have to book again at higher prices.
A wide range of excuses was given, they reported, with internet users taking to popular Chinese social media sites such as Weibo and Xiaohongshu to complain about their plight.
One user said on Xiaohongshu, an Instagram-like app, that she booked a place in Tianjin, a coastal city in northern China, for 1,777 yuan ($257) for five days.
Not long after she saw online that the price had soared by almost double, she was told by the owner that her booking had been canceled because of a Covid outbreak.
“But later that night, I went on to Meituan to check,” she wrote, referring to a online booking platform. “The place is still available.”
The situation has prompted state media and provincial law enforcement authorities to issue warnings on Weibo, the highly-censored equivalent of Twitter in China.
“The unscrupulous practice of these bed-and-breakfasts is ugly,” said an opinion piece posted on the social media platform by state media People’s Daily.