Free but frustrated: Chinese tourists struggle to overcome travel hurdles due to Covid

Claire Li was looking forward to her trip from Shanghai to her home in Anhui after two months of lockdown. But before the graduate student could see her family, she had to spend seven days locked up in a room with a stranger and bad food at a local quarantine facility.

“There was something new in the food boxes every day,” says 24-year-old Lee. “Sometimes it was moldy eggs. Sometimes it was rotten potatoes.”

Such dire conditions can be tolerated by homesick students and other travelers who haven’t seen their loved ones in months, if not years. But for most tourists and business travelers, they are a powerful incentive to stay at home.

While most residents of Shanghai, Beijing and other lockdown-hit cities have been able to travel freely within their hometowns since early June, going outside the city is a different matter as regions across the country continue to enforce quarantines and other restrictions on outsiders. .

The result has been an ever-changing patchwork of special local quarantines that hamper tourism and business travel through the world’s second-largest economy, further delaying its recovery from President Xi Jinping’s controversial coronavirus policies.

The hardest hit are people from Shanghai, who experienced the worst of China’s zero-Covid lockdowns this spring. Two popular tourist destinations – Sanya on the tropical island of Hainan and Dali in the southwestern province of Yunnan – require arrivals from the financial center to undergo a three- and seven-day quarantine, respectively, before they can begin their vacation in earnest.

A woman gives birth in Shanghai. The city endured two months of tight lockdown © Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

Even small towns and rural areas away from the most popular tourist routes are suspicious of arrivals from Shanghai, fearing they are carrying Covid-19. While quarantined in Anhui, Li was annoyed that medical workers in her hometown constantly called her “patient” even though her Covid tests repeatedly came back negative.

According to the Chinese Ministry of Tourism, 80 million trips were made during the three-day public holiday of the Dragon Boat Festival this month, down 11% from the same holiday last year and 13% down from the last pre-pandemic holiday. Dragon Boat Festival in China. 2019.

“Tourist activities will be the last to resume because as long as there is one place with an outbreak, it will affect travel throughout the country,” said Hernan Cui, an analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics in Beijing.

“I don’t expect it to recover very quickly, especially after recent outbreaks in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing,” she added. “Travel is definitely behind the overall recovery cycle.”

During the Chinese New Year in February, American graduate student Tennyson Brown-Wolfe, who lives in Beijing, decided to go to the Harbin Ice Sculpture Festival after his hotel assured him and a friend that there was no…

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