For Wang Jianfeng, a former travel agent in Beijing, the year 2019 was busy. Wang flew to major cities worldwide, such as Frankfurt, Rome and Boston 22 times to guide Chinese tour groups, support giant Chinese tech companies to launch new products and accompany a top-tier actor to shoot for magazines abroad. He felt that a trip from Beijing to London or Dubai was just like a trip to another city within China.
However, COVID-19 not only led to his membership with Air China being downgraded from gold to silver in early 2021 but also cut the number of employees working at the travel agency from 120 to about 40 after the firm's outbound travel service was shuttered. He only went to the travel agency for four days during his last month on the job in 2021.
Similar to his colleagues who have already made career changes to find jobs in the real estate, insurance, retail and other sectors, the 38-year-old has registered as a driver on Didi Global Inc, China's largest ride-hailing platform, and has shot photos at weddings and birthday parties in the Wangjing area of Beijing to create more living allowance while he is still waiting for the recovery of the tourism sector.
There are even more ways for people in travel-related industries to make a living. For instance, airlines have begun to sell extra-value products, such as redeemable coupons and packages of flight tickets, to increase their ancillary revenues via livestreaming sessions on various platforms since last year.
Apart from transforming themselves into media bloggers to sell recreational vehicles and outdoor products in many tourist spots, Wang said many ex-travel agents, relying on their previous global service networks, also started to run cross-border e-commerce businesses to import food and beverages.
Affected by a resurgence in cases of COVID-19 infections and a weakening domestic tourism market, China Duty Free Group, or CDFG, the country's largest operator of duty-free stores, saw its sales revenue drop 7.45 percent on a yearly basis to 16.78 billion yuan ($2.48 billion) in the first quarter.
Eager to restore its earnings strength, the State-owned company will put its vast Haikou International Duty Free City project, with a planned construction area of more than 920,000 square meters, into operation in the second half, thanks to favorable government policies to stimulate domestic consumption and support the growth of the Hainan Free Trade Port.
Starting from July 2020, the duty-free shopping quota in Hainan was raised to 100,000 yuan per year from the previous 30,000 yuan. The purchase limitations were significantly cut and more duty-free products were offered.
In addition to gaining more market share by selling duty-free products in land ports and airports across China, CDFG President Chen Guoqiang said the company plans to run more downtown duty-free stores in a number of cities in the coming years and further promote sales on its duty-free e-commerce platform. Its online sales app currently has more than 20 million members.
"It is unlikely to see a rebound in the tourism market in the second half of this year because the pandemic has affected many people's lives and jobs, as well as their incomes," said Wu Liyun, an associate professor at the China Academy of Culture and Tourism at Beijing International Studies University.
With many tour guides struggling to make ends meet, the Huangshan Association of Tour Guides in Anhui province has been helping its registered members take up temporary jobs since late March.
Despite travel restrictions limiting people moving around the country, the tea leaves in Huangshan continue to grow and need people to pick them. The association encourages the city's tour guides to work as tea leaf pickers in the mountainous Huangshan district for a daily wage of 170 yuan, with costs for meals, accommodation and travel covered by the owners of the tea gardens.