Trav­el­ers flee smog in quest for clear skies

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By SU ZHOU suzhou@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Zhang Juan, a stay-at-home mom in Xi’an, Shaanxi prov­ince, usu­ally would not con­sider tak­ing a trip un­til Spring Fes­ti­val. How­ever, smog seems to have left her no choice.

“I have a 1-year-old baby who is ex­tremely sen­si­tive to smog, and the air cleaner at my apart­ment doesn’t look like a prob­lem solver,” she said. “So, since govern­ments have is­sued smog alerts, I will take my son to Sanya in Hainan prov­ince or an­other city with clean air.”

In­dus­try in­sid­ers said heavy smog has be­come the ma­jor driver of win­ter travel. The on­line travel agency Ctrip said on Mon­day that it ex­pected to help send more than 150,000 trav­el­ers to over­seas des­ti­na­tions in De­cem­ber, sim­ply to es­cape the smog.

UTour In­ter­na­tional Travel Ser­vice Co didn’t give spe­cific fig­ures, but it said the num­ber of trav­el­ers in De­cem­ber has in­creased by 10 to 15 per­cent com­pared with the same pe­riod last year, and smog is the ma­jor rea­son.

Since Fri­day, vast re­gions in north­ern, cen­tral and east­ern China have faced se­vere smog, which is con­sid­ered the most se­ri­ous since au­tumn in

terms of area af­fected and sever­ity.

As the smog lin­gered, 24 cities, in­clud­ing Bei­jing, Tian­jin and Shi­ji­azhuang, is­sued red alerts, the high­est re­sponse level, as of Sun­day, and more than 50 is­sued orange alerts, the sec­ond high­est level.

Wang Zhenyue, deputy direc­tor of UTour In­ter­na­tional Travel Ser­vice’s di­rect­mar­ket­ing cen­ter, said smog has been an is­sue for a long time. “How­ever, peo­ple can ar­range trips in ad­vance now, be­cause govern­ments usu­ally is­sue red alerts for air pol­lu­tion one or two days in ad­vance.”

“Schools stop classes and com­pa­nies al­low em­ploy­ees to work re­motely,” Wang added. “All of these con­trib­uted to an in­crease of travel to es­cape smog.”

Travel agen­cies in­clud­ing UTour, Lv­mama and Ctrip said Bei­jing, Tian­jin and He­bei still ac­count for the largest num­ber of tourists who want to es­cape smog. Chengdu, Sichuan prov­ince, and Chongqing in South­west China also saw a surge of tourist num­bers in the past two weeks.

Do­mes­tic tourism des­ti­na­tions that of­fer a good nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and air qual­ity are the ben­e­fi­cia­ries, in­clud­ing Sanya, Hainan prov­ince and Li­jiang, Yun­nan prov­ince. Over­seas des­ti­na­tions with loos­ened visa poli­cies also are draw­ing many Chi­nese tourists.

Ad­di­tion­ally, many lesser­known tourism des­ti­na­tions have gained pop­u­lar­ity among clean-air seek­ers.

“For ex­am­ple, Xun­liao Bay is a very small and quiet place in Guang­dong prov­ince. No one wanted to visit there be­fore, be­cause it doesn’t have any fa­mous scenic spots,” said Wang Zhenyue from UTour. “How­ever, with many el­derly peo­ple and chil­dren want­ing to find a peace­ful place to rest and stay away from smog, it be­comes a per­fect choice.”

ZHAI YUJIA / CHINA NEWS SER­VICE

A traf­fic of­fi­cer di­rects a driver at a toll sta­tion in Shi­ji­azhuang, He­bei prov­ince, on Mon­day af­ter the free­way link­ing Bei­jing and Hong Kong was par­tially closed due to heavy smog.

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