China's Travel Industry Teetering on the Edge of Collapse

The combined revenue of 100 listed companies in the travel industry reached 757.938 billion yuan while the total net loss was 31.5 billion yuan. Among the various sub-sectors, only the pure tourism firms or catering firms reported profits.

Credit: China Visual Group

Credit: China Visual Group

BEIJING, May 31 (TMTPOST) -- In May, all listed travel companies released their 2021 earnings reports. Amid the pandemic and related travel restrictions, the tourism sector struggled last year and its prospects still do not look rosy in the near term.

According to statistics collected by ABN, listed travel companies are divided into five sub-sectors, namely pure-tourism business, comprehensive-tourism business, tourism resource development and operation, travel agency and hotel. TMTPost added two more categories -- catering and transportation -- to the analysis of 100 listed companies on exchanges in mainland China, Hong Kong and the United States.

The combined revenue of those listed companies in the travel industry reached 757.938 billion yuan in 2021 while the total net loss was 31.5 billion yuan. Among the various subsectors, only the pure tourism companies or the catering companies reported profits

Based on TMTPost’s research, the industry has been buffeted by the pandemic, and the prospects can hardly be optimistic as the end of travel-related restrictions is not in sight.

  Pure tourism: two dominant players -- Meituan and China CDF

In 2021, Meituan's in-store, hotel, and online travel business reaped 32.53 billion yuan in revenues or a year-on-year increase of 53.1% while the net profit reached 14.1 billion yuan, representing a year-on-year increase of 72%. Meanwhile, the revenue of LY.COM was 7.538 billion yuan, up 27.05% year over year, and the net profit was 723 million yuan, an increase of 120.82% year over year.

Meituan, as a super popular app, secures its top spot on the profit list in terms of online tourism. Its strategy to penetrate many domestic third-tier city markets resulted in an average DAU of intra-city travel as high as 260 million yuan in 2021, a year-on-year increase of 34.2%, a 25.2% increase from 2019, the year before the pandemic.

Both Tuniu and Ctrip posted losses. Tuniu reported the revenue of 426 million yuan or a decrease of 5.31% year-on-year and the net loss of 122 million yuan. Ctrip achieved revenue of 20.023 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 9.32%, with a loss of 550 million yuan.

Tuniu’s share price has been below $1 for more than a month, and recently received a delisting warning from Nasdaq. Although Ctrip reported a net loss in 2021, its loss shrank by 83.06% year-on-year, which was slightly better-off than last year. It is now seeking a secondary listing on the HKEx.

Songcheng Performance, Funshine Culture, and Sanxiang Impression are three large companies in tourism entertainment. Among the three, Songcheng Performance has the highest net profit of 315 million yuan, followed by Sanxiang Culture with 113 million yuan, and Fengshang Culture with only 92 million yuan.

Among the 16 companies TMTPost selected, China CDF ‘s revenue was 67.676 billion yuan, representing a year-on-year increase of 28.67%, while its net profit was 9.654 billion yuan, which was a year-on-year increase of 57.23%, second to Meituan. Relying on the duty-free business of outlying islands, CDF will have more room for growth in the future.

Statistics show the total revenue of the pure-tourism business reached 164.731 billion yuan, and its total net profit was 23.078 billion yuan. As the pandemic that broke out in early 2020 still continues, online travel platforms and duty-free business have become the two major business lines that will drive the industry.

Most comprehensive tourism firms in red

The 12 listed companies, which TMTPost examined, reported a total operating revenue of 126.818 billion yuan in 2021, with a combined loss of 2.006 billion yuan.

Among the 12 companies, only five was profitable. OCT stood out, with a net profit of 3.799 billion yuan, a year-on-year decrease of 70.05%; China Travel Service (Hong Kong)’s net profit was 148 million yuan, representing a year-on-year increase of 144.53%; Sanxia Tourism’s profit was 105 million yuan, a year-on-year increase of 118.1%; Lingnan shares and Shide Global’s profits are below 100 million yuan.

2021 marked the first year for OCT A’s revenue to exceed 100 billion yuan. In 2021, OCT received a total of 77.979 million tourist visits, which were 150% of the 2019 level. With new projects added in 2021 being excluded, the figure was 96%, indicating a recovery pace far outstripping the industry average.

After the outbreak of the pandemic, OCT received 720 million yuan and 640 million yuan in government subsidies in 2020 and 2021, respectively, to make it through the hard times.

Compared with pure-tourism firms, comprehensive-tourism ones are more likely to rely on multiple business segments to achieve profitability in theory, but the reality is a different story. Among the loss-making companies, Tempus Global Business Service Group and Macrolink lost 1.473 billion yuan and 3.893 billion yuan respectively, which dragged down the overall performance of the sub-sector.

Travel agency sector: CYTS turns around

Among the 11 listed travel agency companies, none of them posted a profit of more than 100 million yuan. The travel agency sector was battered by the pandemic in 2021.

Among the seven companies that achieved profitability, Tuyi Holdings had a net profit of 40 million yuan, a year-on-year decrease of 10.38%; both CITS United and Travel World reported a net profit of 25 million yuan each, representing a year-on-year increase of 74.31% and 14.55%, respectively; Kangtai Tourism Net’s profit was 22 million yuan, a year-on-year increase of 41.31%. As a leading company, CYTS’ operating income will reach 8.635 billion yuan in 2021, the highest in the industry, with a net profit of 21 million yuan, marking a turnaround year-over-year; Saishang International Travel and Kangzhuang International Travel posted a net profit of about one million yuan.

Among the four loss-making companies, Zhongxin Tourism lost 464 million yuan, a year-on-year increase of 68.63%; Caesars Tourism lost 690 million yuan, a year-on-year increase of 1.22%. Both are traditional travel agencies with a focus on overseas travel.

Mixed results for tourism resource development and operation sector 

The number of listed companies in the tourism resource development and operation sector reached 26, of which only 16 were profitable.

All profitable companies reported a net profit of less than 100 million yuan. The combined revenue of 16 companies totalled 7.741 billion yuan, and the total net profit was 459 million yuan. Among them, Aoya Design, Jiuhua Tourism, and New Silk Road Tourism were the top three in terms of net profits.

In 2021, the revenue of New Silk Road Tourism reached 2.21 billion yuan, the highest among the 26 listed companies. Yunnan Tourism fell to last place, with revenue of 1.418 billion yuan and a loss of 326 million yuan.

Nearly half of listed hotel companies in red

The hotel sector also bore the brunt of restrictive measures taken to curb the spread of the coronavirus last year.

Among the 17 listed hotel companies, nine were profitable and eight were still in red. Miramar Hotel, Wanda Hotel Development, and Jin Jiang Hotel were the top three in terms of profit, with respective revenue of HKD 330 million (equivalent to 280 million yuan), 241 million yuan, and 101 million yuan.

Jin Jiang Hotel has targeted the mid-end market and adopted the business model of light assets. As at the end of 2021, the number of hotels Jin Jiang owned reached 10,600, a net increase of 1,207. The number of mid-range hotels surpassed the number of budget hotels for the first time to hit 5,517, while budget hotels remained at 5,096.

Among the loss-making companies, Huazhu Group, Fosun Tourism, Shangri-La, and Regal Hotels lost over 100 million yuan.

As of now, Fosun Tourism has operated 64 resorts worldwide, including 34 in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, 13 in the Americas, and 17 in the Asia-Pacific region (including 8 in China). As of December 31, 2021, there were 46 resorts in operation.

Fosun Tourism pointed out in the report that although the group continues to lose money, the travel business is gradually showing an upward trend as Covid restrictions are lifted and the vaccination rate is going up.

Shangri-La achieved revenue of US$1.241 billion in 2021, a year-on-year increase of 20.09%. In 2020, however, it lost a total of US$460 million, which was the most unsatisfactory results since its listing. 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of Shangri-La Group, and investors are worried about its loss of US$291 million in earnings.

Looking at the financial reports of major hotels in 2021, the hotel industry still has a long way to go.

Listed catering firms: mixed performance

There are not many listed companies in the catering sector. TMTPost examined five listed companies related to tourism destinations, and only two of them achieved profitability.

Of the two, Guangzhou Restaurant had 3.89 billion yuan in revenue in 2021, a year-on-year increase of 18.33%; the net profit attributable to shareholders was 560 million yuan, a year-on-year increase of 20.28%.

In terms of the number of restaurants, there are a total of 7 restaurants, under the various brands - "Guangzhou Restaurant", "Tao Tao Ju" and "Xingyue City". They are either newly opened or resumed operations in 2021. Guangzhou Restaurant acquired six Haiyue Tao Tao Ju outlets, adding a total of 13 new restaurants.

"Tao Tao Ju" has always been a landmark in Guangzhou in terms of the time-honored Cantonese cuisine. Since 2015, the brand has opened new restaurants in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Beijing, Xiamen and other cities.

Another profitable company was Tongqinglou. The company's operating profit in 2021 was about 1.608 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of 24.11%; the net profit attributable to shareholders was about 144 million yuan, a year-on-year fall of 22.17%. The increase in revenue mainly came from new restaurants, with the company adding 7 new ones on a net basis from the same period in 2019.

The pandemic was a major factor behind the poor performance. At present, local tourism has become a major source of revenues as international travel is restricted. The travel companies should strengthen innovation capabilities and branding to attract more customers.

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