If the coronavirus pandemic had not happened, Shengwei Ye would be spending this month’s “Golden Week” holiday in Australia.

Mr Ye said the relaxing lifestyle in Cairns, the amazing coastal scenery on the Gold Coast, and the non-stop events in Melbourne really impressed him on his last visit to Australia, and that he was keen to come back.

However due to coronavirus-related travel bans and disruptions, travel to other countries like Australia is still unrealistic for most Chinese people.

“I was definitely planning to travel abroad, either to Europe or to Australia, but neither can happen now,” Mr Ye said.

Shengwei Ye skydives in Australia during a trip here in 2019. Land and the shore can be seen below.
Shengwei Ye visited Australia last year and said he was keen to head back.(Supplied)

Instead, this October holiday the 29-year-old will be flying to Xinjiang from Shenzhen.

“I have been planning to visit Xinjiang for many years, and since we cannot go abroad this year, I decided to go to [there] with friends,” he said.

Domestic travel to rise in China

Chinese tourists check out WA
Golden Week usually sees a boost in overseas travel, but that won’t happen in 2020.(ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Laura Meachim)

Each year, Chinese citizens get a seven-day holiday for the week of the country’s National Day, which is on October 1.

It is one of the three week-long holidays they get during the year, alongside the Labour Day Golden Week on May 1 and the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) holiday.

But unlike the Spring Festival holiday, in which most people go home to visit family, people tend to go travelling during the National Day Golden Week.

Domestic scenic spots are swarmed, and overseas travel usually sees a peak: in 2019, there were 800 million people travelling during the National Day Golden Week, according to state media reports.

Tourists mill around the grounds of the Huaqing Pool near Xi'an, China, in this undated image.
Tourists mill around the grounds of the Huaqing Pool hot springs near Xi’an, China.(Supplied: Siyu Zhang)

Even though China has not eliminated COVID-19, state media newspaper the People’s Daily estimated there would still be around 600 million people travelling around the country this year.

Brian King from the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at Hong Kong Polytechnic University said he believed that number was “a bit conservative”.

According to data analysis firm ForwardKeys, domestic arrivals at Chinese airports reached 86 per cent of 2019 levels, and bookings hit 98 per cent.

By way of comparison, Qantas says it has only had around 20 per cent of its pre-pandemic domestic capacity scheduled for August.

COVID-19 not a major concern for tourists

A couple wearing masks walking inside the Forbidden City in Beijing.
China has been relatively successful at controlling the spread of coronavirus.(AP: Andy Wong)

Siyu Zhang, a former travel agency employee in Xi’an, said some major domestic tourism sites may see more visitors than in previous years.

As a member of his former employer’s international travel team, Mr Zhang’s job was impacted by the pandemic, and he decided to quit earlier this year.

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has issued some strict regulations requiring tourist sites to only operate at 75 per cent capacity, and adopt an online reservation model.

Visitors have to register using their real names in order to buy tickets online, and physical box offices will only open to people with special needs.

Body temperatures will also be scanned prior to entry.

Mr Zhang said the tourism sector has seen its luck turn around in recent months, despite a horror start to 2020.

A very crowded beach
Life has been able to go back to normal to an extent in China.(ABC News: Steve Wang)

“Cross-province travel reopened in June, and sites are seeing more and more tourists come back,” he said.

China’s Ministry of Commerce kicked off the National Consumption Promotion Month on September 9, launching 2,800 events in 179 cities in order to “unleash consumption potential, promote consumption growth, and better meet people’s growing needs for a better life”.

Official data showed in 2019 that consumption accounted for 57.8 per cent of the country’s economic growth, becoming the major driving force of economic growth for the sixth consecutive year.

Professor King said China had national plans aimed at driving growth in the consumption economy.

A group of young people with pool toys walking down a street
People are starting to head out again in China despite coronavirus.(ABC News: Steve Wang)

“China has a high savings rate, and the idea is to incentivise consumers to spend on services and experiences,” he said.

“Tourism plays an important part … with 1.4 billion people and a now very developed infrastructure, like 36,000km of high-speed rail, the authorities have advocated tourism as a means of building national pride and stimulating the economy.”

Is there anything Australia can learn?

People taking photos of Uluru
Australia may also need to push domestic tourism during the pandemic.(ABC audience contributor Eleni Curry)

According to July data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), overseas visitor arrivals have fallen 99.6 per cent compared to the same month in 2019.

The number of Chinese arrivals in July was just 130 people, compared to 150,390 in July last year.

In a potential reprieve for tourism operators, Australia’s domestic travel sector is set to reopen, but without a huge domestic market like China it may be more difficult for businesses to survive the rest of the year.

Professor King said businesses would need to adjust to the demands of Australian travellers.

“Airlines — Qantas and Virgin principally — will need to boost domestic capacity,” he said.

Tourists line up along the boardwalk to see the 12 Apostles, large rock columns in the ocean.
Tourists line up along the boardwalk to see the 12 Apostles in Victoria.(ABC News: Nicole Mills)

However partisan politics and tensions between federal and state governments could be a barrier, especially when it came to border controls, he said.

“Don’t focus on squabbles about borders,” Professor King said.

“Australians need to be persuaded that they are not ‘missing out’ because of limits on international travel, and have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore their own continent.”

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