World News

Spring yet to come: Small businesses at Beijing’s tourist hot-spots struggle

By Muyu Xu and Thomas Peter

BEIJING (Reuters) – For Zhang Yu, who runs a cafe in one of Beijing’s top tourist spots, business has never been so bad.

To contain the spread of the coronavirus, bars and cafes in the Wudaoying hutong – a top Lonely Planet destination built around a narrow lane – are permitted to provide take-away services only. Non-residents must show proof they have an appointment to enter the area.

Added to which, tourism has plummeted.

“Don’t mention it! This is supposed to be the peak season,” said Zhang, who has run her cafe for five years. “But there are almost no customers as they (authorities) don’t want to have people hanging around here.”

While China’s manufacturing and retail sectors are starting to get back to work as the pace of new infections slows sharply, tourism sites in Beijing remain a shadow of their former and bustling self.

China’s capital city has maintained the highest level of emergency response to the outbreak, so tourist attractions like the Forbidden City remain closed. A 14-day quarantine for new arrivals has stifled travel.

As a result, small business owners running restaurants, souvenir shops and tourism agencies are struggling.

Only a little over 20% of tourism-related businesses in Beijing had resumed operation as of the three-day Qingming national holiday in early April, a survey by on-demand delivery service giant Meituan Dianping showed.


The only people present in Wudaoying on a recent afternoon were a few elderly residents sitting outside to enjoy the spring sunshine. A cat made its way lazily through empty rooftop bars.

“We used to see more customers in one hour in pre-virus days than we see in a whole day right now,” said a worker at a sandwich restaurant in Wudaoying.

In another popular area, Khazzy, a 32-year-old doctoral student who opened a restaurant last October, has had only four customers all day.

“There are almost no tourists coming to Beijing and the remaining locals have concerns about eating out,” Khazzy said as sunset approached.

Khazzy said he has let five of his 13 staff go and has no idea how long he can stay afloat financially even though his landlord has agreed to waive one month’s rent on the property in Qianmen, near Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

More than half of the shops in Qianmen remain closed. The manager of a state-backed noodle restaurant said most of the closed stores are privately owned small businesses that can’t secure enough business to support their daily operations.

She said revenues at the noodle restaurant have plunged more than 80%, but staff salaries have not been cut.

Zhang, the cafe owner in Wudaoying, reckoned small businesses could hold on for the next three months.

“But after that, I just don’t know,” she said.

(Reporting by Muyu Xu and Thomas Peter; Editing by Neil Fullick)