China has finally lifted all restrictions, but there are hurdles to cross as business travellers return to the country. Jonathan Kao, managing director, Greater China, BCD Travel, shares tips on how to smoothen out the journey
1. Provide ample lead time
For international bookings to China, we encourage travellers to book four to six weeks ahead of their travel date to ensure that the desired flights are available. At present, international capacity stands at around 20 per cent compared to 2019 level.
China-based airlines however, have the added advantage of staffing up quicker than international airlines as the former did not make many employee cuts during the pandemic.
Last-minute bookings will result in high prices of tickets, and preferred flights and connections will be even hard to match up in this climate.
According to Mckinsey’s report published earlier this year, if mainland China follows Hong Kong’s demand recovery, international air passengers will hit four million per month by April 2023. The number represents international passengers’ traffic from/to China. The recovery rate compares to 2019 monthly |average level would be around 40 per cent then.
2. Longer processing times for visas
Most Chinese embassies and visa centres around the globe are now open and accepting applications. At present, visa application lead time for those travelling into China takes three to four weeks. Only business travellers and visiting family are valid reasons to visit, but tourism visas should resume soon.
As for the outbound visa travel from China, travellers should also make their appointments early for applications. For US visa applications, the earliest appointment date is now July 2023 for applications made in Shanghai and Guangzhou. For German visas, no quota is available until after April 2023. For Singapore and Japan, visa applications are normal as long as all required documentation is presented. However, we are seeing much longer processing times as compared to pre-Covid.
3. Check bookings closely
Several hotels have shuttered permanently, or in the throes of renovation, so it is best to check ahead of time and confirm your reservation if bookings are not made through official channels, such as OTAs.
If travelling domestically in China, rail travel continues to be a reliable option. In the last three years, more train stations have been built, and stops have increased. When travelling by rail, double check the tickets for the correct train station are booked.
However, with domestic airfares lower than pre-Covid levels, it is possible flying may be cheaper on some routes.
4. Engage a TMC to help
A travel management company will be your best bet for smooth travel into China at this current point in time. Not only will they will be able to provide a wealth of information about new flight schedules and availability, they will also provide updated information for hotel and rail travel.
As China goes into a period of travel recovery over the next six to nine months, more changes are expected. A TMC would be able to help companies navigate these challenges and ensure business trips are not wasted trips.