Where China’s wealthy travelers are going during the pandemic

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Tourists visit Laojun Mountain in China’s Yunnan province on April 10, 2020. The mountainous area is a popular destination thanks to an abundance of ancient cities, forests and tea plantations.
Photo: CNN Travel


The sandy shores of Sanya. The mountains of Yunnan. Giant panda sanctuaries in Sichuan.
Wealthy Chinese travelers may not be able to travel internationally with ease these days, but they have no shortage of attractive travel destinations in their own backyard.
And it seems the country is readying for yet another boom in domestic travel ahead of Golden Week in October.
After more than a month of strict restrictions and lockdowns to stamp out a Delta variant outbreak, China reported no new local Covid-19 cases on August 23 for the first time since July.
Before the outbreak — which was the worst in China since 2020 — domestic travel had been on the upswing.
According to a report by the China Tourism Academy, the sector expected approximately 4.1 billion domestic trips in 2021, reflecting a 42% increase compared with 2020. In addition, the academy has projected $511 billion in revenue from domestic tourism, up 48% year on year.
Meanwhile, an annual survey of high-net-worth individuals by Chinese research firm Hurun Report found that interest in domestic travel jumped 31% year on year and 44% of respondents said they planned to increase their travel spending.
“Outbound tourism is officially discouraged, and the quarantine-on-return requirements are onerous,” Sienna Parulis-Cook, director of marketing and communications at Dragon Trail, a China-focused digital marketing agency, tells CNN Travel.
“There is also social pressure and a sense of responsibility that you should not risk others by traveling abroad and potentially bringing back the virus with you.”
While international travel remains challenging, wealthy travelers are taking every opportunity to explore their home country.
“Because China is so vast. There are so many different languages, cultures and foods as well — different things grow in different regions,” Jolie Howard, the CEO of L’ VOYAGE bespoke private jet charter service based in Hong Kong, tells CNN Travel. “There is so much variety.”

Destinations of choice

According to the 2021 Hurun Report, Sanya — a tropical playground on the island of Hainan south of mainland China — is the most popular destination among wealthy domestic travelers. Often referred to as the “Hawaii of China”, it’s filled with luxury resorts, many managed by international brands.
Ranking second is Yunnan, a mountainous region home to ancient cities, forests and tea plantations.
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