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May Day air travel back in business

Tourists flock to the Louvre Museum in Paris on May 3. FENG YONGBIN/CHINA DAILY

Travel abroad was popular for Chinese tourists during the recent May Day holiday, and they traveled further to some niche destinations like Saudi Arabia, in addition to traditional hot spots like Southeast Asia, industry players said.

During the five-day holiday that lasted from May 1 to Sunday, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore were among the top 10 overseas destinations for Chinese travelers, as the latter three Southeast Asian countries all adopted visa-free entries for Chinese visitors, said Qunar, a Beijing-based online travel agency.

The total booking volumes of international flights and overseas hotels for the May Day holiday both hit new highs on the platform, Qunar said.

Saudi Arabia, Spain, Hungary, France, Austria and Italy saw significant growth in the number of travel product bookings on a yearly basis. In addition, some Chinese tourists booked trips to Murmansk, Russia; Athens and Santorini in Greece; as well as some smaller cities in Spain and Portugal, the agency said.

“For traditional popular overseas destinations such as Japan, France, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, Chinese travelers are no longer satisfied with simple sightseeing, and increasingly have been exploring small towns in-depth,” said Xiao Peng, a researcher with Qunar’s big data research institute.

Chinese visitors arrived at Burgundy, France — a renowned wine cultivation region — or Otaru, Japan, the movie-shooting backdrop for the Japanese hit film Love Letter. They also visited Zermatt, Switzerland, where travelers can go skiing all year round, and even Recife, Brazil, hometown of former soccer star Rivaldo, Xiao said.

Outbound tours organized in small groups and with flexible schedules were popular among Chinese travelers, and they preferred self-guided tours for short-haul trips and group tours for long-haul trips, said Tuniu, an online travel agency.

For instance, travelers mainly booked packages that included both flight tickets and hotels, and took self-guided tours in places such as the Maldives, Bali Island of Indonesia, Singapore and Japan, Tuniu found.

During the May Day holiday, cruises were also sought after by Chinese consumers. Many voyages that departed from Shanghai to Fukuoka, Japan, as well as from Shanghai to Okinawa, Japan, were nearly sold out, Tuniu said.

Pioneering female pilot takes to the air with pride

Huang He (center), a pilot at Air China, coaches trainees in a simulator. [Photo/China Daily]

Life is filled with pivotal moments, each capable of steering a person onto a completely different path.

For Huang He, one such moment arrived when her school’s dean informed her about a female pilot recruitment advertisement in a newspaper in 2003. Seizing this opportunity, she embarked on a journey that would change her life forever.

“I entered this industry (to become a pilot) by accident. At the time, I was a sophomore at Tianjin Normal University, majoring in computer science. One day, my dean mentioned that he thought I fit all the requirements listed in the newspaper for hiring a pilot and encouraged me to give it a try. I applied, passed all the tests, and have been a pilot ever since. I completely stumbled into this career,” the 42-year-old said.

In 2003, Air China, one of China’s largest airline companies and the national flag carrier, began recruiting pilots from among college students, breaking gender barriers by hiring male as well as female candidates.

The selection process was highly competitive, involving physical examinations, written tests and multiple rounds of interviews. Huang remembered sitting in a vast auditorium filled with hundreds of dreamers aspiring to soar through the skies.

Out of over 500 female applicants in 2003, only three successfully navigated the rigorous tests and secured the opportunity to become pilot trainees.

Huang transferred to Civil Aviation University of China in Tianjin to begin her pilot training, a customary process in China by which airline companies collaborate with universities to train and nurture aspiring pilots.

Joining Air China as a trainee pilot in 2005, she became one of the company’s first female pilots and achieved the rank of captain by 2011.

As of the end of last year, only 843 female pilots held commercial flight licenses, according to the Annual Report of Chinese Civil Aviation Pilot Development 2023. This figure pales in comparison with the total number of pilots in China’s airline companies, which stood at 57,854 by the end of 2022.