Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

31 Jan, 2016

How Investments, Technology are Accelerating China’s Travel Boom

BEIJING, Jan 25 (NNN-XINHUA) — High-speed trains with comfort, Starbucks coffee on board, free WIFI in stations, and phone apps for ticket purchase.

As the annual Spring Festival (Chinese Lunar New Year) travel rush kicked off throughout the country on Sunday, hundreds of millions of Chinese found that their journeys for holiday homecomings have become much smoother and faster.

This year’s Spring Festival travel rush reflects how China’s economic boom, huge investment in infrastructure and fast growth of information technologies have totally redefined the once gruelling experience of going home for the Chinese New Year, which falls on Feb 8 this year.

At Shanghai Railway Station, the ticket office is no longer crowded. In previous years’ travel rush, the ticket office was crammed every night for weeks ahead with tens of thousands of people who had to line up for the whole night to buy a ticket.

But this year, about 83 per cent of tickets were purchased online.

China’s railway service has been adapting to hi-tech trends by making itself accessible through websites and mobile phone apps, said Zhu Wenzhong, passenger traffic director of the Shanghai Railway Bureau.

Passengers can now order onboard meals by phone app before boarding. Drinks made by Starbucks are available on certain trains.

Across China, free Wifi is offered in some train stations and electronic ticketing machines are placed in bus stations. An online system which integrates bus operators in 13 provinces has been launched.

The Ministry of Transport says that this year it has started to use big data to analyze the Spring Festival traffic.

Chinese car-hailing app Didi has rolled out a car-pooling service which can pair travelling needs across the country, making it possible for drivers to take on others when travelling home for the Chinese Lunar New Year.

Train stations have also been modernized. In the city of Nanchang, a railway hub in eastern China, passengers used to wait outside Nanchang Railway Station as there was not enough room indoors during the Spring Festival travel rush.

This year, they can wait inside the station as a high-speed train station was just added to the city.

This year, Gong Xinyi, a college student in Shanghai, traveled back to her hometown in Jiangxi Province in only one third of the time that she needed previously. A newly added high-speed route has linked Gong’s hometown with Shanghai and shortened her journey to three hours. Last year, she had to take a seven-hour-train ride and an additional three-hour bus trip.

Gong’s faster Spring Festival journey is made possible as China has been investing heavily to expand its high-speed train network which is already the world’s largest.

Of all the trains serving in the Spring Festival travel rush this year, more than 60 per cent are high-speed trains which can run at speeds of up to 350 kilometres per hour.

Around 3,300 km of new lines were added to the high-speed railway network last year, bringing the total length to 19,000 km, which make up 60 per cent of the world’s total.

From 2011 to 2015, the period in which China’s 12th Five-Year Plan was implemented, fixed-asset investment in railways amounted to 3.58 trillion yuan (544 billion US dollars), up 47.3 per cent from the 11th five-year-plan period.

Sheng Guangzu, the general manager of the China Railway Corp., says China plans to invest 800 billion yuan in railways in 2016, especially in the less-developed central and western regions.

High-speed rail services continue to carry more weight in the Spring Festival travel rush because more Chinese now can afford to travel in style after the country’s average disposable income surged by more than seven per cent every year over the last decade.

The Chinese people’s growing ability to afford a faster journey has also fueled an air travel boom. Chinese airlines are expected to carry 54.55 million passengers in the Spring Festival travel rush, up 11 per cent from the last year.

Air China says during the Spring Festival it will add 2,432 flights and operate an average of 1,160 flights daily.

China Southern Airlines plans to add more than 6,000 flights on 155 international and domestic routes during the Spring Festival holiday break.

Efforts have also been made to ensure a faster trip back on the ground. As no toll charges is being levied nationwide during the seven-day Spring Festival holidays, traffic jams on highways had trapped thousands of cars for hours in previous years.

Zheng Zongjie, an engineer at the road network centre of the Ministry of Transport, says that this year car drivers will no longer need to pick up the tickets at toll gates as they did during previous free-hour travel periods to make traffic flows smoother and faster.