China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism released a circular July 14, giving the green light to travel agencies and online travel service providers to restart interregional group tours in most parts of the country.
Group tours to regions with medium to high risk levels of coronavirus contagion are still prohibited. At present, there are two high-risk areas on the Chinese mainland, both in Urumqi, capital city of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Three other districts in Urumqi and Huaxiang in Beijing's Fengtai District are the only four medium-risk areas on the mainland. Group tours across provinces had been suspended for almost half a year, since Jan. 24.
According to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics on July 16, China's economy bounced back, expanding by 3.2 percent in the second quarter this year as the country has effectively contained the pandemic and gradually resumed work and production. Restarting interregional group tours will surely inject fresh momentum to China's economic recovery and further quicken the resumption of work in related sectors, especially at the time when overseas tours are virtually impossible. Less than an hour after the group tour restriction was lifted, the number of searches for cross-provincial group tours on Ctrip, a main travel service platform in China, jumped around 500 percent.
After more than 40 years of reform and opening up to the outside world, today's China is different from what it used to be, when material demand among the people was just for food and drink to fight against hunger. The emergence of an affluent middle class and the easing of residency restrictions are both contributors to the development of China's leisure industries. Thanks to these changes, tourism, hospitality, entertainment and other consumption-based sectors have turned out to be pillar industries in China. According to official statistics, the country's travel industry provided direct and indirect employment to 79.87 million people in 2019, accounting for more than 10 percent of the total employment in China. However, many people in the sector have been unable to work or have even been laid off this year because of the rampant pandemic. With the gradual revival of tourism, the sector will see the return of more jobs.
Tourism has the characteristic of being highly relevant to a multitude of industries, which results in the integration of many of those industries. In addition to being a stimulant for the tourism sector, the new move will also give strong impetus to tourist attractions, airlines, hotels, restaurants, transportation and many other upstream and downstream industries.
The tourism industry is of special significance to China's poorer regions since most of the country's popular scenic spots are concentrated in Guizhou and Yunnan provinces, the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Travelers from all over the country will provide significant support to improve the welfare of rural communities in these regions, including more jobs, better incomes, upgraded infrastructure facilities, construction of special-feature towns that have lifted many poor families and villagers out of poverty and a much more comfortable environment.
No matter how eagerly we want to reinvigorate our national economy, governments at various levels should set the people's health as the top priority. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has stipulated that newly reopened tourist attractions should limit visitors to no more than 50 percent of their normal daily capacity, an increase on the previous limit of 30 percent. Such a capacity cap should be strictly followed so as to safeguard public health and avoid mass gatherings of people in scenic spots. Moreover, compared with other places, many tourist sites in remote areas have reported fewer or even no COVID-19 cases so far, and nucleic acid tests are strongly suggested for all visitors before their arrival so as to keep these scenic spots safe and clean.
(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)