China kicks off Lunar New Year travel rush, expects record 9 billion trips

PEOPLE shop for Chinese Lunar New Year decorations in Yu Yuan Garden in Shanghai, China, Jan. 31, 2019. — REUTERS/ALY SONG

BEIJING – China on Friday kicked off its busiest annual period of mass migration with a record 9 billion domestic trips expected to be made during a 40-day travel rush around the Lunar New Year holidays, state media predicted.

That would be nearly double the 4.7 billion trips made during the so-called Spring Festival travel rush in 2023 when ultra-strict COVID-19 restrictions were abolished.

Millions of people will travel back to their home towns to reunite with families for the Lunar New Year, which falls on Feb. 10 this year, in the world’s largest mass migration each year.

About 80% of the 9 billion trips will be self-driving road trips, also a record, with the rest by rail, air, and water, Chinese state television CCTV reported.

Nearly 11 million train trips, the main mode of transportation in China, are expected on Friday. A total of 480 million trips will be made nationwide during the 40-day period, a 38% jump from 2023 and up 17% from 2019 before the pandemic.

Both railway travel and air travel skyrocketed on the first day of this year’s rush. Passengers struggled to get train tickets, even though China is home to the world’s largest high-speed network.

Miranda Guo, a 25-year-old cartoonist from a Hangzhou-based Chinese technology firm, was lucky to have secured a seat on a bullet train to Jinan. But that was only after forking out an additional 60 yuan, 13% of the ticket price, on an “accelerator package” offered by third-party booking apps.

“I think it’s hard to buy a ticket this year, with almost all my colleagues failing to get tickets. Many of them are still on waiting lists,” Guo said.

Air passenger trips are estimated to reach 2 million on Friday, CCTV reported. During this year’s travel rush, the number of trips made by air are expected to surge to 80 million, per China’s aviation regulator, up 9.8% from 2019.

Airports in China’s biggest cities Beijing and Shanghai will brace for heavy crowds.

Shanghai’s two airports Pudong and Hongqiao expect passenger traffic to surge 57.6% on year in the 40-day period while Beijing’s airports will see a more than 60% jump.

Overseas travel will also rise during the travel peak.

China’s aviation authorities have arranged more than 2,500 additional international flights to Asian destinations including Southeast Asia, Japan, and South Korea.

Additional railway and flights are also arranged for popular domestic tourism cities including Harbin in northeast China and Sanya, a popular tropical destination in the south. — Reuters