China’s most popular holiday travel destination is in Wuhan, the onetime COVID epicenter

September 29, 2020, 10:38 AM UTC

China’s October National Day holiday will mark the country’s largest movement of people since before the pandemic, providing a chance for China to definitively show that life is back to normal in the country where COVID-19 first emerged.

Over the eight-day “Golden Week” holiday starting Oct. 1, Chinese travelers are expected to make 600 million domestic trips within China, according to a new report from Chinese online travel operator “The demand on tourism that was suppressed for nine months will probably be released in these eight days,” said in a statement to Fortune.

The holiday is still expected to fall short of the 782 million trips Chinese travelers completed during the same holiday last year. But given China’s relative containment of COVID-19, authorities are confident that the tourism industry is poised to continue its rebound.

Subscribe to Eastworld for weekly insight on what’s dominating business in Asia, delivered free to your inbox.

“We are relatively optimistic about the tourism economy in the latter half of 2020,” said China Tourism Academy in a recent report.

So where are these tourists going?

Notably, the historic Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan, the city where COVID-19 first broke out, ranked No. 1 on’s list of most sought-after tourist sites for the October holiday, followed by Shanghai’s Disneyland, and Xi’an’s Terracotta Warriors.

Travel demand for Wuhan underscores Chinese tourists’ confidence in their country’s handling of the pandemic and bodes well for China’s battered domestic travel industry. At the same time, the Chinese government is warning its citizens about the coronavirus risks of international trips, meaning Chinese tourists may continue to put off overseas travel, even as reopened countries try to woo them.

Lockdowns to Golden Week

Lockdown restrictions during February, March, and April brought travel within China to a halt, inflicting a hefty toll on the country’s domestic travel industry.

In total, China’s tourism revenue is expected to drop 52% in 2020 compared with 2019, and the number of individual trips is expected to decline 43% to 4.43 billion, according to China Tourism Academy.

Still, China’s tourism industry has started to recover since the country’s domestic COVID-19 outbreak is largely under control.

Visitors in protective masks walk through the grounds of the Yellow Crane Tower in Wuhan, China, on Aug. 8, 2020. The tower is China’s most sought-after tourist destination during the October holiday, according to a new report.
Yan Cong—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The first major test of China’s travel recovery came in late spring, when China opened up leisure travel during its May Day holiday, and some 80 million Chinese travelers took trips around the country. In July, China loosened travel restrictions further and reopened cross-province group tourism, which was considered a final push to get the industry back to normal.

Now, Beijing and China’s travel industry see the October National Day as an opportunity to convince any remaining skeptics that domestic travel is safe. Some 1,500 tourist sites in China are either dropping or heavily discounting gate fees during the holiday, and local authorities are providing travel coupons as an added incentive.

Safe travels

But China’s tourism push ends at its borders.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) reported earlier this month that 115 of 217 global destinations surveyed had started to ease travel restrictions for foreign tourists. As of late August, some 24 countries had fully reopened their borders to Chinese tourists, allowing them to enter without quarantines, Wolfgang Georg Arlt, director of the China Outbound Tourism Institute, wrote in a report on China’s travel industry. But even as barriers recede, Chinese tourists, who represent the world’s largest source of outbound travelers, may be slow to return abroad.

Crowds fill a railway station in Hangzhou in China’s Zhejiang province on Sept. 28, 2020. China’s railways are scheduled to carry 108 million passengers between Sept. 28 and Oct. 8.
Feature China/Barcroft Media/Getty Images

Last week, China’s Centers for Disease Control released a set of safety guidelines for traveling amid the pandemic. It said that China is low-risk for COVID-19 infection but that much of the rest of the world presents a high risk for contracting the disease. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged Chinese travelers not to leave the country on Monday, launching a campaign that says if a foreign trip is “not essential, then don’t travel.”

More must-read international coverage from Fortune: