Chinese tourists visiting popular island resort Hainan caught out by return ticket shortages amid Lunar New Year travel rush

“This is my first time on a road trip to Hainan … I did not think that buying a return ticket would be a big problem,” another user said on the lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu. “But now I have learned my lesson.”

The province experienced a significant surge in passenger traffic during the holiday, with an overall year-over-year gain of more than 30 per cent, provincial authorities said.

The influx of visitors means return plane tickets are in short supply, authorities said, forcing travellers to pay high prices for business class flights – usually 10,000 yuan (US$1,400) or above, more than five times the cost of an economy class flight at other times of the year.

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The authorities said the passenger outflow will reach a peak between Thursday and Saturday and demand for tickets will remain high until Monday. Airlines also advised passengers to avoid the airport at the main resort city of Sanya and look for flights from other airports, such as the provincial capital Haikou or Boao.

It is not clear how many people have found themselves stranded, but there were no reports of widespread disruptions to flights.

Local media reports said the country’s civil aviation authority had agreed to increase Hainan’s flight capacity and was speaking to airlines about their plans. Meanwhile, Sanya airport is working with airlines to introduce widebody planes that can carry more passengers.

The situation is similar for other forms of travel. There is no direct road link or high-speed railway, and tickets for the main rail route off the island, Zhanjiang in Guangdong province – a five-hour journey – are sold out until the end of February.


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Meanwhile, the authorities in Haikou said a record 38,900 vehicles were carried across the strait dividing the island from the Chinese mainland on Wednesday with 19,600 more scheduled for Thursday. Meanwhile, a total of 179,000 people made the journey on Wednesday.

The port authorities are working to lay on extra services to allow more cars to take the ferry on Friday and Saturday.

Visitors at other times of the year generally do need to buy return ferry tickets in advance and Yang Wanxing, who arrived in Hainan on Saturday after taking his electric vehicle on the ferry, admitted he was one of those travellers who had not realised demand would be so high at present.

He said he was extremely worried that he would not go back to Chengdu in Sichuan in time to start work on Friday and even if he did get a ferry ticket on Thursday, he would still face a 1,700km (1,055-mile) drive home.

“I have been trying to grab a ferry ticket to the mainland since Wednesday, but it did not work out,” he said. “There are too many people trying to get the tickets, my chances of getting it are low.”

Part of Yang’s problem is that ferries are only allowed to carry 18 electric vehicles, 10 per cent of the total number of berths, at a time due to safety concerns following a series of battery fires.

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Another 26-year-old visitor from Zhengzhou in Henan province, who gave her name as Fei, described her journey back home as “an escape from Hainan”.

“The most difficult part is departing the island,” she said. “As long as you arrive on the mainland, you can always get back no matter where your destination is, south or north.”

On Wednesday she got a ferry to Xuwen as a foot passenger, before setting out for home via bus and train. She said she had decided to leave her car on the island, and would either return to pick it up at a later date or pay a towing company to bring it to her home 2,000km to the north.

By Tuesday afternoon, the hashtag “Sanya flights” had attracted more than 18.4 million views on social media platforms, with Xiaohongshu sharing tips, such as looking for international flights that included a transit in China.

Authorities are working to lay on more ferry services and flights. Photo: Getty Images

One Shanghai resident named Stephanie told users of the platform that she had spent 2,500 yuan on a flight to Seoul that included a stopover in her home city and was going to cancel the second leg of the trip after she landed there.

Some visitors complained that the ticket shortage had ruined their experience of the island and vowed never to return.

“A flight from Haikou to Kuala Lumpur only costs around one or two thousand yuan, even less than the flight from Haikou to other major mainland cities,” wrote another Xiaohongshu user.

“Why would I consider visiting Hainan during the holiday again when everything from hotels to food is expensive here, instead of going to Southeast Asian countries?”

But some internet users were less than sympathetic, saying those who had not planned their journeys properly had only themselves to blame.


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“Their experience has nothing to do with Sanya or even the Hainan government. It is their own fault,” wrote one Weibo user. “If they had checked and booked flight tickets before the trip, they would not have found themselves trapped in such an arduous situation.”

“Demand affects supply,” another wrote. “How can these people be so careless not to buy return tickets when deciding on their trips?”

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