SHANGHAI - China's tourism business during the May Day holiday rebounded to pre-COVID levels, as the number of domestic trips rose by 70.8% from a year earlier, government data showed on Wednesday.

If sustained, a recovery in the service sector could ease worries that China's post-pandemic economic recovery is loosing momentum as the property market remains soft, and exports face headwinds.

Travel-hungry Chinese made 274 million domestic trips during the five-day break that began on Saturday, a rise of 70.8% from a year earlier, and 19% more than during 2019, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism said on its website.

During these trips, Chinese tourists spent 148 billion yuan ($21.42 billion) in total, a 128.9% increase from a year earlier, and on a par with 2019 levels.

The figures from this year's May Day holiday - the first travel season since the pandemic without restrictions - are being monitored as a gauge of China's economic health.

Asset manager Vontobel said it believes China's recovery should accelerate, benefiting companies that cater to domestic consumers across leisure and e-commerce, as well as travel-focused businesses in China and across Asia.

The travel boom during the May holiday "can be seen as a turning point of China's tourism sector", official Xinhua News Agency said on Wednesday.

The China Tourism Academy estimates that about 4.55 billion domestic tourist trips will be made this year, up 73% from 2022, Xinhua reported.

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism said on Wednesday that it had launched a month-long campaign during the holiday to promote domestic travel and leisure, and local governments are also making efforts to boost consumption.

($1 = 6.9110 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Shanghai Newsroom; editing by Barbara Lewis)