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    Amid Spring Festival Logjam, Hainan Scrambles to Add Flights, Ferries

    With thousands of tourists stranded amid an unprecedented surge in travel, authorities have announced increased flights, introduced new ferry and shuttle services, and reopened parking bays at airports to ease congestion.
    Feb 18, 2024#Lunar New Year

    Authorities in southern China’s Hainan province have ramped up flights and other transportation services following an unprecedented surge in travel during the Lunar New Year holiday, leaving thousands of visitors stranded due to an overstretched system.

    Approximately 17,300 cars were scheduled to depart the tropical island by ferry on Sunday, with about a third having left by 9 a.m., according to the local transportation bureau. Boarding the ferry and leaving the island could take at least seven hours, the bureau noted, adding that parking lots at three major ports for ferry services in the provincial capital of Haikou were at full capacity.

    To ease congestion, the government announced increased flights, introduced new ferry and shuttle services to major airports, and reopened parking bays at Sanya Phoenix International Airport, the island’s second busiest airport.

    Renowned for its coastline and luxury resorts, Hainan ranks among the favorite destinations for Chinese tourists during the Lunar New Year holiday, which this year took place between Feb. 10 and Feb. 17. This year, the island saw a 30% increase in travel flow, with outbound travel peaking on Feb. 13 and expected to continue until Monday, according to authorities.

    During the eight-day holiday, Hainan handled an estimated 1.69 million trips, marking a historic high in passenger numbers at the province’s three major airports: Haikou Meilan International Airport, Sanya Phoenix International Airport, and Qionghai Bo’ao International Airport.

    The surge in travel garnered significant attention online, with thousands sharing footage showing severe congestion on roads and at ports. Many travelers expressed frustration over the increased prices of return flight tickets, with some advising booking flights to South Korea and disembarking at a stopover to save money.

    Among those stranded was 28-year-old Tian, who drove from the central city of Wuhan to Sanya for the holidays. After spending 11 hours trapped at a port, she finally managed to secure a ferry ticket from a scalper on Saturday after failing to do so through official channels. The situation, she said, was exacerbated by volatile weather, with heavy fog preventing ferry operations.

    “It’s a city with no way out,” said Tian, who asked to be identified only by her surname for privacy reasons. She also said that flight prices to Wuhan recently soared to over 7,500 yuan ($1,043).

    A search for flights from Haikou to Shanghai on revealed that all tickets for Sunday were sold out, and prices for Monday climbed to 8,500 yuan, only to drop to 4,800 yuan the following day. By comparison, tickets typically cost less than 1,000 yuan under normal circumstances.

    The Civil Aviation Administration of China announced on Saturday an increase of 34 and 13 flights from Haikou and Sanya, respectively, to meet the high demand. Additionally, state broadcaster CCTV reported that some parking bays at Sanya Phoenix International Airport, previously closed for maintenance, were reopened to expand capacity.

    Local authorities also introduced new ferry and shuttle services to the major airports. By Monday afternoon, all ferry tickets for crossings before Feb. 24 were sold out on the official booking platform.

    With no bridges or undersea tunnels to connect the island with the mainland, airplanes and ferries remain the sole modes of exit from the island. And despite increasing calls for the construction of a bridge in recent years, experts and officials have pointed out the significant technical challenges due to the complex terrain of the strait.

    This isn’t the first time the island has faced such challenges. In 2018, tens of thousands of tourists were stranded at the end of the Lunar New Year holiday due to unseasonal fog that continuously halted the cross-strait ferry service.

    Editor: Apurva.

    (Header image: Passengers lining up to check in at the Meilan International Airport in Haikou, Hainan province, Feb. 17, 2024. VCG)