SANYA - Sophia Ong, owner of a small eatery in China's tourist beach hotspot Sanya, thought she would be ideally placed to reap the benefits of the country scapping its zero-COVID policy in December last year.

After almost three years of intermittent lockdowns and financial turmoil, Ong, who also owned a bar, was ready for the flood of tourists who would arrive over the Lunar New Year holiday, which began on Saturday.

But the wave of business failed to materialise.

"Business is even just like half (of what it was last year)," said Ong, in between serving customers at her restaurant Solicious.

In China, before the end of zero-COVID, sporadic city-wide lockdowns and curbs on movement decimated the tourist industry, leading to widespread small business closures in the sector.

Li Qiang, a local coconut vendor, said that his business has also logged losses this year, as tourists just aren't spending.

A lot of businesses have faced financial losses, “so the overall quantity of consumption just doesn’t account for anything," said Li.

"It isn’t easy,” added Li.

China expects the total number of passenger trips made by travellers by road, rail, water and flight during the upcoming Lunar New Year to reach 2.1 billion this year, double from last year's 1.05 billion during the same period.

But while tourists are increasing, some are just sticking to the beach.

“We just want to enjoy this beach, the sea breeze, and the beautiful scenery. But we don’t want to go to those places with lots of people. Over here we can read books, take a stroll, and dine with friends,” said Zuo Zhihui.

(Reporting by Alessandro Diviggiano; Writing by Engen Tham, Editing by William Maclean)