As many Japanese lament their loss of travel plans over the upcoming Golden Week holidays from late April to early May, more than 80 million Chinese are expected to enjoy what is likely their first vacation since the recent coronavirus lockdowns.
The upcoming Labor Day Holiday set to take place from May 1 to 5, will be the "first real peak" of tourism in China this year, according to a report by Trip.com Group, China's largest online travel operator.
(Photo taken in the suburbs of Beijing on March 28, 2020, shows Great Wall of China, which has partially reopened to visitors after a two-month closure due to the coronavirus outbreak.)
The company expects to see twice as many travelers during the five-day weekend compared with the 43 million recorded during the Qingming tomb-sweeping festival earlier this month.
But safety remains a major concern for many travelers during this year's May holiday, the report showed, with an increased demand in quality vacations.
The majority of hotel bookings on the company's platform have been made with four- and five-star hotels and online car rental reservations continue to soar as customers prioritize freedom, privacy and hygiene, according to Trip.com.
As virus-related restrictions to travel across provinces and overseas remain in place, many vacationers have opted for nearby destinations, traveling to local areas or neighboring provinces. The top three destinations are Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing.
Some 4,000 tourist spots will be open to visitors during the coming break, a record number since the outbreak, with Huangshan Mountain in eastern China's Anhui Province and Taiping National Forest Park in central China's Xi'an city among the most popular destinations based on current bookings on the site.
Although China has claimed that the epidemic has peaked within the country in mid-March, the country remains vigilant to the risk of another outbreak as lockdowns are relaxed.
To prevent the gathering of large crowds, authorities have cut the number of allowed visitors to popular tourist destinations to 30 percent of normal maximum carrying capacity, while introducing additional precautionary measures such as requiring online reservations and confirming the visitors' COVID-19 risk-free status with a government-backed smartphone app.
Since March, local governments across China have distributed digital vouchers with the aim of stimulating domestic consumption, with some cities encouraging consumers to vacation with travel-specific coupons and discounts.
Although this year's projected 80 million accounts for less than half of the 195 million travelers recorded during last year's four-day May holiday, the recovery of the tourism industry is accelerating, according to Trip.com.
For those confined to their homes during their canceled vacations, this rings hope. How successfully China manages to prevent another outbreak while it eases restrictions including leisure travel may provide others with insights and hope into what their post-isolation lives may hold.
Last year, 24.6 million people were projected to travel in Japan or abroad during the extra-long 10-day Golden Week holidays, according to Japanese travel agency JTB Corp.
In stark contrast, this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has urged the Japanese people to refrain from visiting their hometowns over the holiday, calling for an up to 80 percent reduction in person-to-person contact as the country struggles to contain the spread of the pneumonia-causing virus.
"To bring an end to this state of emergency as soon as possible, now is the most critical time for us," Abe said at a meeting of a government task force on the coronavirus response earlier this week.
While many Japanese will have to sit this upcoming spring holiday out at home, the promising signs of recovery in this year's Labor Day holiday in China may provide glimmers of hope for them as well as Japan's hard-hit tourism industry.