Air travel bookings from China have slowed sharply over the past three months, especially to Europe and the USA, closely mirroring a decline in the country’s stock market, according to ForwardKeys, a Valencia, Spain-based business intelligence company. Total outbound international bookings from China during the period fell from a growth of 21 per cent year-on-year (for the period ending with August 2015), to just 1 per cent, since the Shanghai Composite hit its peak. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department indicates that the number of visas granted to Chinese travelers to visit the United States reached a record level—increasing 47 percent year-on-year for the same period ending August 31.
The slowdown in bookings that analysts say is related to the condition of the Shanghai Composite was compounded by lower Chinese purchasing power as a result of the weaker Chinese yuan vs. the U.S. dollar. The data from ForwardKeys, which monitors future travel patterns by analyzing 14 million reservation transactions each day, shows the biggest fall was in August when growth in outbound bookings turned negative. However, departures from China during the September to December period will still grow compared with the same period last year, the analysis showed. Also, travel during the upcoming Golden Week national holiday, from October 1 to 7, seems not to have been affected by the stock market drop because bookings were made months in advance.
However, bookings to Europe and the U.S. for November and December are lagging behind the volumes for the same period last year. The weaker Chinese currency is clearly making an impact on travel decisions, according to ForwardKeys, whose founder and CEO, Olivier Jager said: “Once again our data reveals how changes in the broad economic climate can have a great impact on the travel industry. The prospects for the low season after Golden Week are still uncertain because Chinese travelers are becoming late bookers. Nevertheless, despite the slump in travel to Europe and the U.S., overall departures from China will turn back to growth from September to December.”
Meanwhile, Surge in Visa Numbers Continues: Ever since the U.S. and China signed an agreement last Nov. 10 that extended the period of validity for tourist visas to each nation from one to ten years, there has been an explosion in the number of Chinese who have sought and received the new 10-year visa.
|Fiscal Year||Number of Visas Granted||Percentage Change|
Source: U.S. Dept. of State, Report of the Visa Office 2014, Statistical Table No. 19
† Information provided by the State Department Visa Office to Inbound Report: Through August 31, 2015, there have been 2,264,531 NIVs issued at Mission China. This is a 47 percent increase compared to the 1,539,079 NIVs that were issued during the same date range in FY-2014
Note: Figures do not include Hong Kong
It is difficult to speculate what impact the huge increase in 10-year visa holders will have on Chinese travel to the USA—the data do not break down first-time visa approvals vs. repeat visa approvals—but the number granted during the current Fiscal Year, which ends Sept. 30, 2015, is already well above the total arrivals if Chinese travelers to the USA in 2014—2,188,000.